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Joplin tornado, 5 years later


Tornado damage in Joplin, Missouri.

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JOPLIN, Mo. — Five years ago, a tornado ripped through the Missouri city of Joplin, tearing apart buildings and neighborhoods, and killing about 160 people.

As it marks the fifth anniversary Sunday, Joplin has worked to rebuild, both its spirits and buildings.

Here are five things to know about the deadly storm:

It was the deadliest in the U.S. in decades

The Joplin tornado was the deadliest in the United States since 1950 — when modern record-keeping began. In addition to the deaths, it injured more than 1,000 people and packed winds of more than 200 mph.

It was the first single tornado in the United States to kill more than 100 people since the June 8, 1953, twister that hit Flint, Mich.

The nation’s deadliest tornado hit March 18, 1925, killing 695 people and traveling more than 300 miles through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

3 million cubic yards of debris

The destruction was great in Joplin.

The tornado damaged or destroyed 7,500 residences and 500 businesses, displaced 9,200 people, affected 5,000 employees and generated 3 million cubic yards of debris, said a report from the city of Joplin.

But there was plenty of help.

More than 140,000 registered volunteers provided 877,301 hours of service, according to the city report. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave $20 million in assistance for housing and transportation.

National Weather Service made changes after Joplin

After the tornado struck, the National Weather Service sent an assessment team to study the community’s preparedness and make key recommendations.

“The tornado that struck Joplin offers important lessons about disaster preparedness,” then-National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said in 2011.

The study found many did not take shelter because sometimes false alarms had been sounded over the years. The recommendations included an improved warning system that conveyed the urgent nature of an approaching tornado and the devastating impact it could have.

Increased use of social media, such as text messaging and smartphone apps, also was recommended, as was increased collaboration among government agencies.

Residents had 24 minutes before touchdown

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Joplin at 5:17 p.m. on May 22, 2011, triggering the city’s sirens.

Not everybody took the sirens seriously. One man said he walked into a coffee shop and was cheered by high schoolers celebrating their recent graduation.

“Garbage cans were flying in the air down the street, but nobody stopped partying,” he said. “It was weird.”

The tornado hit the town 24 minutes after the sirens, with 200 mph winds chewing through neighborhoods, knocking down structures, ripping up utility poles and tossing cars across streets.

People who had taken shelter were amazed at the storm’s power. The wind tore down bathroom walls and lifted a bathtub where several people had huddled. A woman who hid under a stairwell with family saw the roof torn off and windows shattered.

“We were being pelted with tree leaves, rain, pop, pop, popping everywhere,” she said. “I knew my house was getting torn to pieces.”

Remembering the storm

Joplin is treating the tornado as a historic event.

The city organized Joplin Proud, four days of activities “to remember what we lost, thank the volunteers who came to our aid, and be proud of the progress we have made as a community,” the city government website said.

A Joplin Disaster Recovery Summit was held Thursday and Friday, with guest speakers discussing what the city learned from the storm. Over the weekend, a marathon was held, and citizens gathered in a city park to remember the victims and to thank the people and organizations that helped rebuild the town, such as AmeriCorps, The Joplin Globe reported.

The National Weather Service also noted the historic nature of the storm by creating a Remembering Joplin event page.

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