By Scott Meeker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
As the Joplin tornado passed overhead, sweeping the house at 2430 S. Pennsylvania Ave. away in its wake, there was a moment of calm.
Delbert Mcguirk was on his back in the basement, where he had sought shelter along with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren. In that moment of relative quiet, he stared up into the eye of the tornado.
“That tornado waltzed through our house and literally removed any and all aspect of it. I was able to see inside of the tornado,” he said. “And then the back side of it came through and started dumping debris on us.”
Part of the furnace from another home landed across Delbert’s legs. It weighed about 150 pounds, but he pushed it off and then helped get his family out to seek medical attention.
It was the beginning of a two-year period he now describes as “a wild ride.”
Much has changed for Delbert and his wife, Jackie, in the two years since the May 22, 2011, tornado.
They now live in a small house on Lone Elm Road. Nearly every one of their belongings — from furniture to clothing — was donated to them after the tornado. Delbert had to give up his job at an auto salvage business, where he had worked for 18 years. Money is tight. And his right leg has been fitted with a prosthetic below the knee.
Delbert said that after emerging from the basement, he wasn’t feeling much in the way of pain.
“My legs were pretty banged up, but I didn’t know I was injured,” he said. “(Jackie) had been hit by something and had a head injury, and one of my granddaughters had glass in her head.”
Three days after the tornado, he noticed that the big toe on his left foot was turning black. He was admitted to Freeman Health System, and the toe was amputated. A few weeks later, doctors removed half of his foot.
A diabetic, Delbert said his condition worsened because of serious vascular damage suffered when the furnace landed across his legs, followed by a series of bacterial infections.
In October of that year, his right foot began to swell, and part of it was also amputated. A series of hospital stays ensued as doctors tried to knock back the infection before finally amputating his right leg below the knee in June 2012.
Still, the Mcguirks say they also have plenty to be thankful for, from the outpouring of support after the tornado to the fact that they’ll soon have a change of address.
Last year, they learned that Habitat for Humanity was teaming with Transform Joplin to build a new house for the family in the 2200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, just two blocks away from their former home.
“It’s close to being done, if it would just quit raining,” Jackie said.
The couple are putting in 150 hours of work toward completing the new house, from painting and cleaning to cooking up some Cajun food for other volunteers. Friends and family members also are donating an equal amount of time.
Jackie said that once they are settled, there is one thing she’ll miss.
“You know what I hate about it over there? There’s no big trees,” she said. “At my age, I can plant a little tree, but I won’t be the one to see it get bigger.”
“Well,” Delbert said, chuckling, “at least I won’t have to rake.”