How I Survived: The Joplin, Missouri, Tornado

William Rhoads, 22, Purdue University Graduate

Tornado aftermath

Tornado aftermath     Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

My grandma kind of forces my grandpa to play dominoes with her. My girlfriend and I were going over there to relieve my grandpa of his domino duties for the evening. The weather started to get bad, and the first tornado siren went off. A few minutes later, the Misners, who have lived across the street for as long as I can remember, came over because they don’t have a basement. My grandpa is a hard-ass kind of a guy, not someone who would respond to a tornado siren. It was my decision. I told my girlfriend to go downstairs. On her way, she pointed out the window: there was this ten-foot tree, and its top was touching the ground. Part of a roof went by. We quickly got down into the basement. Something told me to clear out the closet underneath the stairs. I got everyone inside. The sunroof went first—you could hear it hit the dining room table. Directly after that, two more windows broke. About ten minutes later, Grandpa and I went upstairs. The front wall was blown in. Half the roof was gone. Afterward, I checked on the neighbors and everyone seemed to be OK, so I started heading back to my grandma’s house. Then I saw a couple people in pickups loading people to take them to the hospital. I was jogging and this guy stopped me. I started loading these people into this truck, four or five. Some of them were critically wounded. And there were a couple of people who had to be dead. It’s hard to talk about.

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