Mark Rohr wonders how the world would change if people always extended helping hands the way they have to Joplin as a result of the May 22 tornado.
The Joplin city manager’s raw, emotional experience helping to rescue residents of the city in the minutes after the storm along with a look behind the scenes of managing the recovery effort is told in a book he has written to be released after the first anniversary of the storm.
Rohr has told only snippets of his story in a myriad of press interviews in the past year. In the book, he reveals more about his experiences the first six months after the tornado and offers information about what he learned in trying to manage a disaster that stretched six miles through the city.
His book, “Joplin: The Miracle of the Human Spirit,” will become available soon. Rohr said he asked the book publisher, Tate Publishing Co., not to release the tome until after the tornado anniversary because he did not want to appear to be taking advantage of the city’s solemn anniversary.
Rohr said he intends to donate money made from the book sales. “I tried to write it in a respectful way,” because he does not want to capitalize on the losses and heartache of those who experienced the loss of 161 lives and 7,500 homes and businesses in the EF-5 twister.
“I always wanted to write a book,” said Rohr, an avid reader himself. “In the aftermath of the storm, 10 or 12 people said, ‘You ought to write a book.’ I did it to help people. It is the inside story of how I responded,” and the reaction he saw from other people who were so willing to help each other despite great suffering. He described it in a speech he gave at a memorial held a week after the storm as “The Miracle of the Human Spirit.” He has used that phrase since then to describe the outpouring that has been made to help Joplin recover from what the National Weather Service recorded as the worst tornado to hit a U.S. city in 60 years.
Part of the book focuses on that positive attitude and generosity. “What if we had that spirit all the time, that value of human life and spirit of working to help someone else,” Rohr said he ponders in the book. He said that he was touched by a feeling of gratefulness for the gifts in life that are not material. “That’s what the storm did to me,” he said of his emotions. “What if you could incorporate that into everyday life. How would we be different?”
He also tells about his experience in helping with the rescues that Sunday night, such as finding a woman trapped in rubble he thought had not survived the storm but learned later had survived, and without any medical care.
At that point, Rohr did not yet know the magnitude of the damage and death the killer tornado had caused. Later in the night, a Tulsa, Okla., helicopter crew took him on a flyover, when he discovered the path of destruction that reached more than a mile wide all the way across the city.
“I was overwhelmed,” he said of the realization about the extent of the damage and loss. “But I didn’t have the luxury of being overwhelmed. I had to push that feeling back and figure out how to deal with this thing. I developed a plan and went on with it, piece by piece,” and he admits that the work has been so frenzied for him and his department heads they “really haven’t had time to deal with this” emotionally.
He shares what he views as the key components of that recovery plan in a section called “The Ten Tenets of Disaster Management.”
Details of the book’s release, where it will be available, and book signings are to be announced later.
Mark Rohr said he wrote a book about his tornado experience on weekends and during a one-week vacation.