What I learned from Joplin - thoughts from a reporter

Have you ever had that sinking feeling of apprehension about something? I felt that feeling a month ago, as I traveled to Joplin along with fellow reporter Lindsey Boetsch. During that 5+ hour trip, I remember telling her about the pit in my stomach. That feeling was telling me that this trip would change me; that I would never be the same.

And I was right. But not for the reasons I thought.

That E-F-5 tornado ripped through the heart of Joplin, Missouri, but the city's still pumping on. It's lifeblood is the people who call it home...and aren't leaving despite more than 7,000 homes and 300 businesses disappearing into the air.

I can't describe to you the sight you'll see when you drive into the tornado alley. It's really something you have to take in for yourself. It's massive at three quarters of a mile across and miles long in each direction. It's not just the sight of it, it's really the feeling you get standing there, it's the smell of dust kicked into the air as crews push pieces of what used to be homes into gigantic piles.

But what also strikes you are the little movements in the debris. Crews working; volunteers cleaning - all to get this town back on its feet.

What also struck me about Joplin was how much it looked like Quincy. In fact it's downtown area is so similar at some points I thought I was back home.

It also has both a Home Depot and Lowes, though Home Depot is operating out of a huge tent-- reminiscent of a circus tent of sorts.

When we first got to Joplin, I started taking video of some of the debris as we waited to hear back from some of the people we were set to meet that day. I fought back tears as I saw a car on it's top, a baby doll lying along on a wreckage-filled parking lot. "How could this happen?" I thought. How could so many people lose so much...and so many people?

We met a woman who had lost a daughter in the tornado. You could tell she's hanging on to her job of helping others. That's what's getting her through each day.

For others it's a hope of a better tomorrow. If you watched our series on Joplin a while ago, you probably remember Sam Pickett. He's a father of five who lost his home when the tornado roared though. He was one of more than 50 families living in a tent city on Joplin's east side. Although he was living in a tent barely large enough for two people, let alone seven, he's constantly looking on the bright side. He's telling his kids they're on an extended camping trip. Boy were those kids living it up. They showed me a crawdad they found, as well as some other critters they caught by the river. I'll never forget the littlest girl who looked like the "young Jenny" off of the movie Forrest Gump. Their father Sam was helping his children deal with their losses the best way he knew how, and kept a positive attitude.

I'll never forget what he told me as he wiped sweat from his dirty brow in the midst of a mess of tents and trees laden with laundry.

"There's a lot of people who are in worse situations every day. If you got your kids and your family who is there to support you it's really not so bad."

Doesn't that put things into perspective for us?

Another thing are the stories of survival. These gave me the chills when I heard them. I bet they will you too!

A woman and her family were huddled in the corner of their living room because they had no basement to go to. All of a sudden the tornado roared above...and their family entertainment center flew into the corner of the wall - essentially trapping them in. They clutched each other until it was over. When they opened their eyes, that corner was the only thing left in the house. When they pushed the entertainment center aside, they saw huge shards of glass impaling the back of the entertainment center. That piece of furniture had shielded them from certain death. That entertainment center was a new addition to their home. It was given to them after her grandmother died weeks before. To this day, that family believes their loved one saved them from heaven.

And oh the stories of faith I heard. One story is of two elderly women who had decided to stay home from church that night due to the weather. They were at the home of one of the women, reading their bibles on a screened-in porch when the tornado pushed through. They held onto each other in that screen porch, I am sure praying every minute. They looked up to find themselves still in that screen porch, with the brick home it was a part of destroyed.

Another story that gives me the chills, is one from a church as well. According to the people I heard this from, a congregation was having Sunday night services when they heard the tornado warning sirens. They all pushed into the hall of that church, clutching to each other and praying. A couple of them looked during the storm and saw the walls coming in on them. Two large men were holding them back with their hands.

After the storm passed, they looked up to find those men gone. But what pricked them to their heart was what they learned when they started talking amongst themselves. No one knew those men, and they were at services that night. To this day that congregation believes two angels were holding those walls up that night - keeping those believers from being crushed.

Here's another story that struck me. We were interviewing organizers with a food and supply distribution center at a church in Joplin. A woman said they had to send volunteers with the people getting help there.

With the memories of Hurricane Katrina and folks there stealing and taking from each other still very fresh in my mind, I assumed a volunteer was needed for the worst reasons. But I was pleasantly surprised when she said this, "We have to send volunteers with these people because they won't take enough. They keep worrying that someone else will need it more. They just keep trying to give it back. We have to put our foot down and make them take what they need." It's that feeling of giving that sticks in my mind. Even with almost nothing, many residents there are still trying to give, instead of take.

I told you at the beginning that this trip changed me. It did - but not the way I thought it would. I thought my journey was going to be one more very difficult story to tell; a story of heartbreak and loss. Although it was that, it was so much more. Although I still wipe away a tear for those who lost their lives, I have a new perspective of hope and faith.

Hardships have made these people strong and have built their faith. Their journey is a constant reminder to me about what we are blessed with and how precarious our journey on earth is. But instead of letting that story defeat them, they're battling back and are taking care of each other in the process.

It's all about attitude. Folks in Joplin are proof of that.

Click through some of our pictures from that trip.