Inside Joplin, the town torn to shreds by 'nature's worst wrath'

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The Independent Online

Tomorrow the President comes to Joplin to help with that thing they call closure. A few folk may be ready.

"We know what needs to get done, let's get started," says Preston Miller, 15, standing in what used to be a friend's bedroom looking across ruined homes to his high school that is no more. Most do not feel the same.

Even Preston, with his adolescent capacity to process calamity, is not so untouched. Schoolmates are missing, including Will Norton, the young man who was sucked through the sunroof as he drove home with his father from his own graduation ceremony. Missing too is almost a third of the city he has grown up in. There is no moving on yet. Everything is too raw.

You can't witness what last Sunday's tornado left behind and not react physically. The odd blasphemies uttered when the first Twin Towers collapsed came back to this reporter as well as memories after Katrina – there are those red Xs again on homes that have been searched. Here, though, unfathomable power was focused onto such a tightly a defined area that the damage is of a different degree.

Only those who lived through it can tell you what it is like to be swiped by nature's worst wrath. Some say their bodies were pulled and pushed "like a rubber band". Everyone speaks of the roar. There is no agreement on how long it took to pass. Some say it was over in seconds, others reckon it lasted 15 minutes. While there was fear, of course, a few recall feeling entirely calm.

Similarly, tiny details of the huge canvas of destruction left behind will strike and stay forever with one person but not the other. The leg of a plastic doll lying in the grass beside what used to be a low-income housing development and a girl's diary with pictures of buff men printed on every page. The twisted girders of the Home Depot store that is so mashed you don't know at first what you are looking at.

Walk these streets and look into ruined homes and you marvel at kitchens and bedrooms rudely exposed in a sort of model-home mockery. A packet of porridge oats there, mugs all in a row there. How is it, though, that nearly every clothes cupboard still has the coat-hangers on the rail, sometimes still with clothes on?

Joplin city officials yesterday said the death toll from the tornado has risen to 132, with 156 people unaccounted for. At least 90 of those originally listed as missing have been found alive in the past day.

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