Tornadoes: Six Months Later

November 22, 2011 is the six month anniversary of tornadoes devastating the city of Joplin - so I figured it might be a good time to give you guys an update of what all has happened since that date.

The City
A lot of rebuilding has taken place.  Commercially, Wal-Mart, Aldi's, Walgreen's (two locations), Wendy's, Chick-Fil-A and several other stores have been rebuilt and are already open.  It's really amazing to think of some of these and how quickly they were rebuilt.  Chick-Fil-A was one of the fastest.  I believe that it reopened it's doors (after being completely leveled and rebuilt from the ground up) on September 1.

Most of the debris haul off has happened.  There are still pockets of debris around the city - such as St. John's hospital and Joplin High School, which I believe are both still standing in roughly the same condition as when they were initially hit.  The government helped pay for the Army Corps of Engineers to come and oversee this cleanup - specifically for the residential districts.  It was impressive to see how quickly the residential debris was removed.

Many people's houses have been repaired.  Not everyone by any means, but every day you hear about more people who have finally completed the last repair on their house - whether that is the windows, the carpets, the roof, the ceilings, or something else.  Construction crews are still backlogged between the repairs and the new construction, but you can see that progress is being made.  Speaking of new construction, there are several new houses that have been completed.  It's very odd to drive along a street that used to have a neighborhood on either side and see a brand new house standing every few streets (with nothing in between).

One area that the city of Joplin has done a remarkable job with is their public schools.  School was started on time!  The High School is temporarily located inside of the mall.  The Elementary schools have been shuffled around, but all Elementary students are still attending.  Something else that Joplin is doing is that they are busing in students who were relocated in the surrounding areas (I don't know if this is still going on, but I had heard that it was at one point).  If you were in Joplin public schools before the tornado, then you are allowed to stay enrolled in Joplin public schools now - regardless of what city you are actually living in at the  moment.  This means that kids can continue attending school with their friends, which I think is important.

The Games
So, a ton of you sent me games to keep after the storm, or to give to others that were affected.  I did my best to find great homes for them (sometimes that meant mine ; )  )!  If I were to estimate, I would guess that I received between 100-150 games after the tornado (ballpark guess).  I gave them away to everyone I could find that was affected and that I knew played games!  The distribution centers were all swamped with donations, and so they would not accept any from me (those of you that mailed games in, don't worry, they didn't turn these down).  My friends who run Hurley's Heroes had the same situation that I did, but with comics that were sent to them.  This hit the local news, and the Hurleys set up a day that they would open their doors and anyone could come pick through the comics that were donated and take any of them for free!  I strong-armed them into letting me give games away at the same time!  (It didn't take much convincing - they are very generous people.)  I gave away an estimated 25-75 games just on that one day (I don't really have a "record keeping technique").  My favorite quote from all of this was when I heard a lady that had grabbed 3-4 games say "this is going to restore game night at my house."  That was wonderful!  And, when I kept eavesdropping, I realized that her house was only a block from where mine was.  Hers must have been completely demolished as well.

In addition, for more "gamer" games, I asked around the game stores for who all was affected by the tornado, and I tried to give a handful of games to anyone that I heard about.  Some that I thought would have a broader (and specifically teenage) appeal I donated to the public library.  Finally, some of them were sold with the money going to tornado victims in various ways.  The bulk of those sold were in the quarterly auction held at Changing Hands Book Shoppe.  The proprietors of the store, John and Susie, were in what I consider to be the worst possible area in Joplin - the area in which your home wasn't completely destroyed (which allows you to either move on or rebuild), but their house was damaged incredibly badly; just short of being deemed "totaled."  The worst part?  They (like many others) had to live in their house while it was being repaired - or while they were waiting for repairmen.  The less publicized crummy part?  I'm sure that their business suffered and made very little money for the few months immediately after the tornado, since games are a luxury item.  So, after consulting with John, we decided that as a surprise to Susie we would sell in the auction about 5-10 of the games that were donated, and we would give the proceeds to them - to do whatever they wanted.  I wanted finances to be at least one thing that they didn't have to worry about.  Everyone present at the auction really stepped up their bidding on each of those items, and most of them went for almost full retail price!  It was great to get to bless John and Susie (after we tracked her down - she kept disappearing with tears in her eyes.  And, in case you're wondering, Susie was able to use some of the money to go down to Houston to visit her grand-baby.  I doubt that there is anything more exciting for a new Grandmother.)

My Family
So, my wife and I have had an interesting journey.  From May 23 - (approximately) August 1, we stayed with friends.  We bounced around a decent amount during this time, and even went down to Houston to stay with my best friend from college for a bit.  This was a very trying time for both of us, but I believe it was much harder on Anna than it was on me.  She struggled a lot during this time, as nowhere was ever home.  On August 1 (Monday the week of GenCon!) we were able to move into our friend's garage apartment.  It is quite nice, and more than anything, it was nice to actually have a place where we can stay, pay rent, and feel like we're not imposing.  He was gracious enough to leave it furnished so that all we needed to bring was a bed!  This really helped us, as it allowed us to wait until we knew what we were doing longer term before buying things like furniture.  This is where we are currently staying.

On December 15, we move to Philadelphia!  The most common question I hear is, "Why Philly?"  Well, first you need to understand that our plan was not to stay in Joplin long-term.  Both myself and my wife are from large cities, and we both missed the big city feel when living in Joplin.  We were planning on moving in two years, but after the tornado we decided to move those plans ahead instead of re-rooting ourselves in Joplin and making it hard to move later.  So, no, we aren't running from tornadoes or anything like that - the plan was to leave all along.  Now back to "Why Philly?"  Well, I like my job (most of the time).  I like the people that I work with (no qualifier).  I can do my same job with the same people from one of our offices that is located just outside of Philly.  I will take my laptop and resume work just as if nothing had changed - I'll simply be switching what part of my team is local and what part is remote.  We are quite excited about it - from each of our visits to Philly, the city seems amazing, and we're also ready to feel like we are staying somewhere more "long-term."  I'm also incredibly nervous and scared!  It's the farthest north I've ever lived, and it's also about 1,000 miles from what I'm used to.  The Northeast has a completely different lifestyle than the Midwest, and I'm both excited and nervous about that change.  For one, I'm planning on taking public transportation to work!  I've never done that!  (Oh, and I am looking for gamers in the Washington Square area of Philly - if you are one or if you know one, please drop me a note.)

Life gets crazy sometimes.  I'm very glad that my wife has been by my side through all of this, and hopefully I have provided her some strength, too.  We continue to both be incredibly grateful that we were on vacation when the tornado hit - some of our neighbors have told us that they are still having nightmares, and I would imagine that this will continue for quite some time.  I want to thank you all for the support that you sent me to help with the tornado, the games that you sent, the prayers that were raised, and just sympathizing with our city's pain.  Tons of people that I've never met also came to Joplin to volunteer - I want to thank them.  More than anything, thanks for caring about people that you have never met.  If nothing else, one of the main things I've learned through all of this is that, just because the news has stopped covering something, doesn't mean that the pain has stopped.

Now let's get back to board games!

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