For approximately 38 minutes, beginning at 5:34 pm and ending 6:12 pm on May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri was brutally hit by a multi-vortex, EF-5 tornado. Tearing a mile-wide, 13-mile path through the city, the tornado destroyed over 7,500 homes, 18,000 vehicles, numerous churches and schools, injured over 1,000 people, and claimed 161 lives (Onstot 2013). The tornado damaged communications towers, electrical facilities, one of the two area hospitals, and several fire stations, hindering survivors’ ability to evacuate, find emergency assistance, or contact loved ones (Onstot 2013; Bartow 2012; Rohr 2012).
As emergency services from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas rushed to assist, the Joplin citizens initialized rescue without waiting for outside aid. Often rescued became rescuer as neighbors pulled one another from the rubble (Turner and Hacker 2011). The severely injured were rushed to Freeman Medical in the back of battered pick-up trucks while non-critical injuries were ignored to join in searching for trapped survivors (Rohr 2012).
In the following months, the media changed from talk of tragedy to amazement and praise. Awarded the Rick Rescorla National Award for Resilience (DHS Press 2012) and praised by President Obama, Missouri Governor Nixon, Director of Homeland S...
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...ntly, were blood, drywall, ozone, and mud. Many claimed the culmination of factors, the unique synthesis and signature smell, was completely imbued in the strange sludge which coated every surface after the storm. This sludge consisted of the pulverized remains of plants, structures, and anything pulled into the vortex of 200 mile per hour winds.
The power of smell to summon the experiential memories of the tornado, causing survivors to relive the trauma rather than merely recall it, complicated the material aspect of the recovery process. Countless citizens, aided by volunteers, combed through the rubble of homes to retrieve as much personal property as possible. While survivors initially rejoiced at finding mementos of their pre-tornado life, several later lamented that the horrible smell so permeated recovered items that they eventually discarded many items.
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