By Emily Younker
Some scars apparently remain long after the wounds have begun to heal.
That was the impression Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean had after viewing Joplin from the air Wednesday.
“You can still clearly see the tornado path,” she said. “It’s clearly etched by the lack of trees, the sparse housing. It still takes your breath away.”
The mayor joined nearly 30 other leaders from the city and Missouri Southern State University in taking aerial tours of Joplin by helicopter on Wednesday morning, courtesy of the Missouri Army National Guard aviation wing from Springfield and MSSU instructor Capt. Amanda Self.
The flights, each about 10 minutes long, flew the group along the six-mile path of the tornado in Joplin, beginning at the eastern edge of the city.
Despite the still-visible wounds to the city landscape, Colbert-Kean said she could easily envision what Joplin will look like in the next five to 10 years. A plan developed by the city’s contracted master developer calls for more than $800 million in projects, including a new theater/library complex, a performing and visual arts center, an event venue and sports complex, and a hotel and convention center.
“I see a lot of potential, and once the master developer really gets going, it will be almost like bringing the big city to Joplin,” Colbert-Kean said. “You see the possibilities of the growth in Joplin.”
Scott Clayton, executive director of Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, said he appreciated the opportunity to see Joplin from the air. He said that from the helicopter, he saw several Habitat homes — 52 have been completed since the tornado, with six more scheduled for completion next week — as well as several other housing developments under construction.
“I was thinking about how far we’ve come,” he said of his train of thought during the flight. “There’s a lot left to do, but so much has been done.”
MSSU President Bruce Speck said he was surprised to see forested areas surrounding Joplin, despite the general lack of trees inside the tornado zone.
“I thought it was quite amazing,” he said. “It was very interesting to see the city from an aerial viewpoint. You get a different perspective.”
Leading the flights were four representatives of the Missouri Army National Guard aviation unit in Springfield, the same unit that provided air transport for Gov. Jay Nixon and others after the tornado.
Joplin has had a particularly significant relationship with the National Guard since the tornado. Guardsmen became involved in Joplin and Duquesne the night of May 22, 2011; at its peak, the guard had 377 of its members helping in the two towns.
They initially worked search and rescue missions, directed traffic, and set up a mobile medical unit. More recently, they supervised 1,400 people who were participating in cleanup crews under a $19 million federal grant.
Last month, the National Guard pulled the last the soldier it still had working in the area as a result of the tornado.
Colbert-Kean said she is thankful to the National Guard — and the thousands of volunteers who worked in Joplin after the tornado — for their efforts in helping local residents clean up and rebuild.
“We support any type of organization that has been here during the time of the tornado,” she said. “We’re appreciative. I don’t think we can say that enough. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”