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Year after Joplin tornado, Utah pastor returns to his hometown

Published May 23, 2012 6:55 pm

The Utah pastor heading to Joplin, Mo., with an RV full of supplies worries about his shaken hometown's fragility.
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Myke Crowder left his church in Layton on Sunday with a lot less fanfare than he did about a year ago when he drove off in his giant — and sometimes swaying — RV packed with relief supplies and headed toward his hometown of Joplin, Mo.

That trip in May 2011 was done with such urgency, the pastor plowed straight through the rain, snow and fog of Wyoming and Nebraska to arrive 22 hours later in the tornado-ravaged Missouri town.

This time, the venture would be more leisurely — complete with an overnight stop along the way and arrival expected late Monday night.

"We'll miss the president's speech to the graduating class," Crowder said. "But we'll be there for all of the events and the walk that follows the path of the tornado."

It won't be his first return trip since he raised $26,000 in cash and delivered thousands of dollars' worth of additional donations ranging from baby diapers, formula and clothing for victims of the F5 tornado that killed 161 in the Missouri town of about 50,000 people.

Crowder, in fact, has been back to visit family and friends several times since the storm. The 57-year-old preacher at Christian Life Center said that while Joplin no longer resembles a town shelled by artillery, it's hardly close to normal.

"It's somewhat eerie as you see some of the new homes built and all around there is still barren ground and trees that are stubs," Crowder said. "It's still kind of freaky-looking."

He paused.

"But the people of Joplin are strong," he said. "They are moving forward."

Back home again • Amy Forbair's new house was completed at the end of February.

The 32-year-old said she and her husband weren't even sure they wanted to rebuild after the tornado turned their home into a splintering mess and destroyed most of their belongings — save for a family photo album and, amazingly, a wedding ring recovered in the debris.

A year ago, they were getting donations and relying on the generosity of relief workers for clothes and meals. On Monday night, she was in her new kitchen cooking dinner.

"It's wonderful," she said in a phone interview. "We're just so happy to be in our house."

Forbair said her street is being rebuilt at a rapid rate, though young trees have a long way to go before they mature into the leafy canopies that the tornado ripped from the ground.

She said the new house includes one nonnegotiable feature: A tornado shelter.

The old house didn't have one, and the Forbair family had to high-tail it to grandma's home a few miles away to take shelter.

Forbair said the new addition has already been used by her two 9-year-old boys, Kaden and Kaleb. She said anytime a bad storm bears down or the tornado warnings go off, they spring into action.

"The kids still have a hard time with it. They want to pack a bag with all their favorite stuff," she said. "Then they hide the stuff in the safe room where they think things won't blow away."

Mormons rebuilding • A Mormon ward in Joplin won't get its meetinghouse back until September, but the steeple will go up Tuesday as a highlighted stop along a memorial march planned through the city.

Bishop Dave Richins said a lot has changed since the days when he stood amid pieces of his church and worked with volunteers to coordinate relief efforts.

Although the meetinghouse is being built and homes are springing up, he said his drive to work every day sometimes leaves him in despair.

"I can't believe this happened," he said. "People's lives were changed, and the power of that tornado just blows me away."

The ward met for two weeks after the tornado in Carthage — about 20 miles away — until LDS leaders worked out an agreement with a Community of Christ church to have the 182 members of the congregation meet there. (The Community of Christ is the largest splinter group from the Mormon faith.)

Richins — a self-described stoic, lifelong Midwesterner — said some ward members are still dealing with the psychological impacts of the twister. The tornado also prompted him to add a tornado shelter to this house.

That wasn't a tough choice after he saw a 40-foot tree crash through his front room while his wife, parents and daughter locked themselves in a windowless bathroom to ride out the storm.

"That sort of thing changes you," he said.

Emotional wreckage • Crowder plans to stay in Joplin for a week and will likely return several more times to visit the place where he was born. But he believes it will be at least 10 years before Joplin begins to resemble the place he remembered.

Physically, that is.

Emotionally, Crowder isn't sure about that time frame.

"People are still shocked at what happened to the town and the loss of life," he said. "They are very much in the emotional recovery zone."


Twitter: @davemontero






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