Journalist and Co-Author of ‘5:41 Stories from the Joplin Tornado’ shares his memories of the devastating storm

It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. Journalists John Hacker and Randy Turner have a new edition of their book, 5:41, Stories from the Joplin tornado, 10th-anniversary edition. The two authors will appear at Always Buying Books at 5357 North Main Street in Joplin this Saturday at 1 pm. I spoke with John recently, he shared with me what he remembers about May 22, 2011.

“I spent most of that day up north because there were a couple of tornado warnings. There were tornado warnings in advance of the tornado that hit Joplin. One of them had Carl Junction in the tornado warning. So I just stayed up there in Barton county. And I was just watching, and you could see these grey, cumulus, nimbus clouds, the clouds with the fluffy bottoms. They kind of look like waves on the bottom. You could see those before the storm hit. Before the tornados hit and, they were grey. They were greyish. So then. Starting getting the reports of the tornados. You know the tornado warning for Joplin, for Carl Junction ended up being just a severe thunderstorm, then you started hearing snippets of something happening in Joplin.”

It was at that point that John started to head south from Barton county. He recalls having a phone conversation with a friend, Jeff Wells, whose. Mom lived near 22nd and Illinois, just blocks away from Joplin High School. Jeff had called John to ask him to check on his Mom because he had heard about the severe thunderstorm warning that blanketed the area that afternoon.

“So that’s where I headed. And I start to go south, and I turn on one of the radio stations in Joplin. And I start to hear somebody just driving up, north on Rangeline, and describing what they’re seeing. They’re saying, “Home Depot is gone. Walgreens is gone. Walmart, badly damaged. The restaurants between 26th and 17th street on Rangeline were just shattered.”

Joplin, Missouri, following the May 22, 2011, EF-5 tornado. — (NOAA)

John’s describing the now-infamous overhead photo showing the over 22-mile path of the EF-5 tornado with wind speeds of over 200 miles per hour, a width of between three quarters and a mile that destroyed over 7,000 buildings, causing nearly 3 billion dollars in damages. John, a resident of Carl Junction, had experienced the May 4, 2004 tornado. It was a part of a cluster of 15 tornadoes that day across Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri. John arrived in Joplin after the tornado had leveled ⅓ of the city. He describes what he saw.

“As I’m driving into town through Landreth park and then down south on Indiana. Right after 15th street and Indiana, I start to see the damage that looks like Carl Junction’s tornado with homes damaged, roofs damaged, parks of roofs ripped off, and stuff everywhere. But when you hit 20th street, it all opened up. And it really felt like it looks like somebody had driven a six wide block lawnmower over, with its wheel on 26th street, its other wheel on 20th street, and just mowed everything down. Match sticks. And that’s when, the reality, you got a real sense of what happened, and it was just… awe-inspiring, it was terrifying, cause you could see people walking around too.”

Journalist John Hacker was sharing some of his memories of the Joplin tornado. John and co-author Randy Turner will be signing copies of the updated version of their book, 5:41 Stories of the Joplin Tornado at Always Buying Books at 5357 North Main Street in Joplin this Saturday at 1 pm. For KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro in Webb City


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