The following story was written as part of a school assignment by Emily Huddleston about her experience during and after the Joplin tornado.
I still remember it like it was just yesterday, or maybe that’s because it feels like it was just yesterday. I will never forget, 45 seconds changed the rest of my life forever, things will never be the same, but everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t know the reason at the moment, it will all make sense in the end.
My brother is graduating today! I am so happy for him, and proud of him. There were times I honestly didn’t know if he’d make it to this day, but he did, I will always look up to him, he’s a great big brother, I have no idea what I’d do without him.
I need to try to curl my hair and if that doesn’t work, then straighten it, pick out my outfit, and do my makeup, and I got to do it fast before I run out of time! Oh, and I have to run over to my neighbor’s house, one of my best friends (Sarah Fisher) to get her black cover-up for my dress.
Well, I couldn’t curl my hair, but I found a really cute outfit, and I am wearing my favorite heels. Now just to run upstairs, (I remember turning off the lights in my room, taking one long look at it, thinking I was forgetting something, but really it was just the last time I would ever see it..)
We all (Me-13, Michael & Maggie-my twin brother and sister-8, Joe-my brother graduating-18, Taylor-my oldest brother-25, Andrea-my sister in-law-24, Ella- my niece 1, and my mom and dad.) headed out for Joe’s graduation, none of us knew that it would be the last time to ever see my house, the house I grew up in, or even yet, the neighborhood that Ashton and I ran as little kids.
When we got to the college we all rushed in to sit down and wait for the graduation to start. I still remember all the smiles I shared with all my friends and family I saw there, and the laughter of Michael, Maggie, and Ella. Then the graduation started, me and Taylor sat there randomly taking pictures trying to catch each other making funny faces as the people talked. As soon as they called Joe’s name Taylor, Andrea, and Ella all got up to leave, I almost left with them, but I decided to stay, something inside me just told me that my rest of the family needed me, so I sat back down right by my dad. As soon as it was done we all got up to go outside and wait for Joe. We all took a few pictures with Joe and talked to some of my parents friends. That’s when the tornado sirens went off; my dad looked around, didn’t see any clouds or anything so we went ahead and decided to go home. Joe left with his friend, and we all got in the car, (my dad driving, mom was in the passenger seat, I was behind my dad, Michael was behind my mom and Maggie was in the last row of the car, it was a suburban) and we left on our way.
We started hearing reports of bad, bad, weather in Kansas, we decided to keep driving, we had to stop for gas though, that’s when I realized it was starting to get darker and darker, I remember having my window down and feeling big raindrops hit my arm (I was always told big raindrops was one sign of a tornado.), that’s when I became a little scared, I texted Sarah and told her to take Levi, and Jacob, her younger brothers, and her mom Michelle, over to my house to get into the basement because it was looking a little bad and that Taylor, Andrea, and Ella were there, I also told her to clean up my room a little bit because it was a mess, (haha! That’s what friends are for, right?? Haha). As we kept driving it kept getting darker and darker and darker, and I became more and more scared. We came up to light at 26th and Main St. and it was a red light, there was a guy in front of us in a truck who stopped for the red light, (what I didn’t realize then was that on the back of his truck there was a window sticker of Jesus.) once the light turned green my dad passed the guy fast trying to get us home safe. The next thing that happened was right at Irving Elementary (the school I went to as a kid and the school Michael and Maggie attend/attended), a piece of hail or debris busted out the very back window, my sister ducked down, my dad threw his hands in the air (he no longer had control of the car, we had driven directly into the tornado.) I put Joe’s diploma over my head with one hand and grabbed my Maggie’s hand and began to pray, (all of that happened in the matter of 5-6seconds, if that.) The next 30-45 seconds was the longest time of my life. It felt like a million things where just pelting your skin till you were numb, like being shot a million times, the worst feeling ever, I had no idea what was going on, and I couldn’t make it stop. All I wanted was it to be over. I wanted a lot, but life isn’t about what you want, it’s about what you need, god placed me exactly where I needed to be.
After we landed (right by Green Bryer Nursing home), my parents both turned around to see if we were all ok, I know that was a hard thing to do for them, they didn’t want to see anyone hurt. My mom asked if everyone was ok we all answered yes. That’s when Michael said "Emily! Your leg!" I looked down at it and just saw a lot of blood, I knew it wasn’t good, but I kept telling myself, "however bad it is, it could always have been worse." At that moment I couldn’t feel the pain of my leg; my whole body was basically numb. My mom rushed to get Michael and Maggie out of the car windows, my dad pulled me through the window, I knew he was hurt, his arms where cut up bad, he tried his hardest to carry me, but his arm gave out on him, he dropped me, I will NEVER ever forget the way he looked at me when he did, I saw the fear, the worry, and the pain, in his eyes, he looked at me, trying to fight back the tears and said "I’m so sorry Emily, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry" and he just kept telling me he was sorry, I told him "dad, it’s ok, I can’t feel my leg it doesn’t hurt" I just wanted to get to shelter (that was the basement of the recently built dentist office behind the Green Bryer Nursing Home). He tried to pick me up again and I told him no, I can walk, just help me walk. So, in my heels, I held my leg and limped over to the dentist office with the help of my dad. My mom sat me up against a car that was in the basement, and we heard that the tornado was coming back around so we went farther back into to the basement, I laid down there, I laid on my right side, by then I could feel the pain, it was something I had never felt before. My dad left to go find a car at our house that was just down the street, but the house was gone, he checked on Taylor, Andrea, Ella, and Sarah and her family who had luckily just made it over to my house right in time, and then he checked on my grandparents who lived next door, and they were fine, he kept in search for a car while my mom dug through dental supplies trying to find something to help my leg. I remember laying there, I kept closing my eyes, for longer periods of time each time, it was really the easiest thing to do, when I did everything was calm, peaceful, and painless, the last time I closed my eyes is when I felt it, the calmest touch ever, I can’t describe the feel of the touch, it again was something I had never felt before. (the touch was on my left shoulder) then I heard this voice, the voice of an angel, she told me "everything is going to be okay" that’s when Taylor shook me and told me I had to stay awake, he had walked up from my house, I told him I would try, but it was hard, then trying to comprehend what I had just heard, and felt touch me, Maggie came and sat right by my side and sang to me. She sang "twinkle, twinkle little star". I laid there and smiled, then knowing everything was going to be ok. Then a nurse came in the basement and said she heard someone was hurt, the first thing she did was put a tourniquet on my leg then she told my mom to stay with me, and not to leave me. After about an hour of laying there, one of my neighbors, Matt, (I now call him my hero, or life saver) came and carried me out of the basement up to Jackson street, the first thing I noticed about him was he smelled good, because the air around me was so hard to breathe. Then some guy that I don’t even know, and his family all got out of their truck and put me in the front, (I was worried about getting blood on his seats!) he then drove me and my mom to St. Johns, only to find out that that St. Johns was gone. I got put on a gurney and I got an IV in the middle of the street, then a nurse told us we had to get to Freeman fast. So we got in the back of another truck and someone else drove us over to Freeman, the things I saw was just so sad. I felt so bad for everyone. I wanted to help them, but I couldn’t. At Freeman I got pushed right through the E.R. waiting room, only because I was on a gurney and had an IV. The rooms in the E.R. were full of 2-3 people a room, I got put in the hallway. Everyone was so scared, it seemed like I was the only one that knew everything was going to be okay. So I laid there and smiled at every person who walked by me. My mom kept asking me if I was okay, I told her "yes, everything happens for a reason, we may not know what it is right now but we will at some point" doctors and nurses would stop by me and look at my leg but no one could do anything, and I was perfectly fine with that, I knew that others needed the help more than I did. Finally when one doctor asked me for what seemed like the 5th time what he could do to help me I told him that a glass of water would be nice.
Then someone took my mom aside and wanted to put stitches in her hand, she didn’t want to leave me but I told her she should go. I continued to lay there and smile. At about 2-3am they pulled me into a room and began to pick stuff out of my leg, it hurt really bad, but I stayed strong. That’s when they put me on an ambulance with one other lady and we set out on our way to Parsons, Kansas. On the way there, the other lady was in a ton of pain and I could tell, I remember trying to talk to her but I was too tired to get any words out, one of the guys in the back of the ambulance told me to stay awake, but, I didn’t. I fell asleep until we got to the hospital in Parsons. As soon as I got there I was rushed into the E.R., all my clothes where cut off and I went straight into surgery. My mom then could call my dad (at 3-4am in the morning) and he was still out walking Joplin with Taylor trying to find us, they went to all of the medical centers set up, and even went to Carthage. Taylor tried to stop my dad and take him back to his house in Webb city but my dad said he wasn’t stopping till he found us. So he finally went back to Webb city with Taylor after my mom called him.
I woke up the next day in my hospital room, trying to remember what all had just happened. My whole hospital visit is kind of a blur, but I remember parts of it. I remember that sometime that day or the next my family came to see me, I was so happy to see that they were all ok. I think the first time I cried was when I was able to hug them all. I know I went back in for surgery one other time, I got what was called a wound vac. that was very painful to change and they had to change it every 3 days. My friends came to see me, and my family came to see me, and after those 2 surgeries, and 2 blood transfusions, and 11 days spent at the hospital, I was able to go home, not the home I grew up in, but my new home, my temporary home, (Taylor and Andrea’s house) it was the first time I was able to see all the destruction. I remember thinking that every single home that was hit had a family in it, and that family had their own story; they saw totally different things then what I saw that night.
I didn’t write this to make anyone feel bad for me, or be sorry for me. I am so glad that I went through what I did. It made me a stronger person, and made me understand a lot more. People keep asking me if I wish I would of went with Taylor and Andrea when they left from graduation early instead of sitting back down, but I don’t, if I would of then Michael or Maggie would have been where I was in the car and I couldn’t even imagine seeing them hurt. Like I told my mom, everything happens for a reason. The only think that bugs me now is all the mean comments and looks I get over my scar, but honestly, this is who I am now, it’s a part of me, I’m very proud of my scar and I don’t care what others think.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Joplin, MO.