The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 21, 2012

Close-knit quarters: Guests at hotel become new neighborhood after tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. — “Big Fat Lies” is the name of the game.

Usually, the men and women square off against each other, said Randy Stanley, who has served as a game moderator of sorts. The game, developed by Mental Floss magazine, is a deceptive trivia game. Two statements are read, and players must sniff out the false one.

The game has led to lots of laughs among an ever-growing crowd of people at the Residence Inn in Joplin. It made a great excuse to bring people together in a new neighborhood of people already brought together by tragedy, Stanley said.

“Someone from Chicago asked us the reason for this, why we would all want to get together,” Stanley said. “When he found out the reason, he said that this doesn’t happen in Chicago. If something happens, everyone goes their separate ways, and they don’t try to bond.”

Granted, not everyone in the crowd wants to play. Some are more interested in talking with each other and catching up.

That’s what neighbors do, said Mark Drew.

“It’s amazing how close knit we’ve become,” Drew said. “I didn’t know any of these people before.”

Stanley, 60, is an accountant who works for a private investment group. Drew, 55, is the chief engineer at the Residence Inn in Joplin. They are two of dozens of people who have become good neighbors amidst forced circumstances.

Checking in

The Stanleys and Drews didn’t know each other before the tornado, but their survival stories are similar.

The Stanleys lived at 2540 Minnesota and rode the storm out in a hallway. The hall turned into a wind tunnel of debris, and they tried to hold on to their cat, which got scared and ran away.

“The smoke alarm was going off and I smelled gas,” Judy said. “My ears were popping and I was yelling, ‘I don’t want to die.’”

A rigid structure of strong toolshelves kept their garage intact. Randy was able to find a wrench in a tool pouch so he could shut off the gas. The relatively short trip was tricky -- Randy had to dodge wires and other debris.

It wasn’t until after he shut off the gas that he looked around.

“I looked off west and thought, ‘Oh God,’” he said.

Mark and Janet Drew lived to the west, at 3030 Oliver. Their house and a rental house for their daughter and son-in-law were situated on three acres of property.

When the tornado hit, Janet, 53, was in the basement of Blendville Christian Church. Mark was at home with his daughter, son-in-law and their dog. He was watching news about the storm; when the power went out, he heard the raging winds.

They dashed into a utility room by a washer and dryer. When the tornado hit, it pushed a wall on top of the two appliances, where the three crouched.

“That made a cocoon for us,” Mark said, fighting back tears. “Not a scratch on us. My arms were bruised from holding on to them and the dog.”

The Stanleys went to Residence Inn that night. It took about three hours for Mark and Janet to reunite. After spending a night with parents, they made it to the hotel the next day.

“We got here the next morning, and the general manager was amazed,” Mark said. “He said that he knew where I lived at, and that he knew he’d never see me again because of the destruction of the storm.”

Most of the guests at the hotel have similar stories. Mark said he guessed that about 90 percent of the hotels guests over the first few months after the storm were survivors.

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