The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 22, 2012

Day of Unity brings community together on tornado anniversary

Emily Tarter printed her message neatly in pink on the concrete at Cunningham Park: “We love Joplin.”

She labored on her chalk art Tuesday as thousands streamed into the park for the Day of Unity observance marking the one-year anniversary of the May 22 tornado that chewed its way a mile wide through Joplin and Duquesne. It claimed 161 lives.

“I was sad,” 9-year-old Emily said of her reaction to the storm that destroyed or damaged 7,500 homes and 550 businesses, with damage estimated to cost $2.8 billion. “I was very depressed.”

Even a year later, there are still tears, though Emily and others at the event said they are trying to mend.

Last year’s May 22 brought thousands of people out, searching piles of ruins for survivors and maneuvering debris-choked streets to get the injured to the hospital. This year, it brought an orderly procession of an estimated 6,000 for a Walk of Unity along a 3.7-mile stretch of memory lane through the tornado zone.

“This is everything we hoped it would be,” said Gary Shaw, a city councilman who served on the planning committee for the Day of Unity, as he watched people gather at the park for an anniversary ceremony.

“Look at our people,” he said. “A year ago they were crying, and now they’re smiling and having a good time.”

Emily said she felt depressed last year “because I love Joplin. I was born at St. John’s and used to play at Cunningham Park,” which also was destroyed by the storm and is being repaired. “I’m glad it’s come back,” she said of the park.

City Manager Mark Rohr opened Tuesday’s ceremony at the park.

“While there’s not too many things I’m certain of in this uncertain world, I am sure that I am very proud of the residents of Joplin. You should be proud of yourselves,” he said of the turnout at the park, estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000.

He remembered those lost in the storm, who were memorialized with a plaque unveiled Tuesday in the park and the planting of the last of 161 trees.

He also credited the 130,000 registered volunteers who have helped Joplin with what has been described as a recovery start unmatched by other similar disasters.

“Mere thanks are not enough,” Rohr said of the volunteers. “Please be assured you are part of the ‘Miracle of the Human Spirit’ and will forever be an important part of the city of Joplin.”

Rohr said that of the 7,500 homes affected by the storm, 61 percent are under permits to be rebuilt or have been repaired or rebuilt. He said a majority of the 550 businesses are already operating or being rebuilt.

One key in that recovery, he said, was the aid brought by Convoy of Hope, which delivered thousands of pounds of food and supplies to displaced residents and then started helping to rebuild houses.

Hal Donaldson, founder of Convoy of Hope, told Day of Unity participants in his keynote address that people from across the country have joined to help Joplin. They have been impressed by the willingness of residents to persevere and work hard to rebuild.

“Tonight we stand together as one, proud to call this our adopted home,” he said.

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