Emily's Story

Back row, left to right: Dianne Huddleston, Kenny Huddleston, Judy Stanley. Front row, left to right: Emily Huddleston, Michael Huddleston, Maggie Huddleston. After surviving the experience of driving into the teeth of the tornado in their Chevy Suburban, the Huddlestons have spent more than a year rebuilding their house in Joplin with the help of Dianne’s sister Judy, who grew up in Joplin but is now retired from a career as a professional homebuilder in Kansas City.

The Huddleston’s totaled Chevy Suburban after the tornado. The vehicle was picked up and carried by the storm, less than a block from the safety of their home’s basement. Emily Huddleston was severely injured; the rest of the family also received injuries from windborne debris.

The Huddlestons’ Chevy Suburban where it came to rest on the day of the storm. Windborne debris shattered the rear windows. In the background is the ruined dentist’s office where the family sought shelter from the hail, rain, and wind.

The ruined dentist’s office where the Huddleston family sheltered after their Chevy Suburban was destroyed in the tornado. When the family emerged from the vehicle, says Dianne Huddleston, “There was nothing. Everywhere was devastation.” The dentist’s office building was the only available shelter. (Eleven residents died in the collapse of a nursing home next door.)

The garage doors were blown in on the walkout basement level of the South Jackson Street dentist’s office, viewed here from the vacant lot where the Greenbriar nursing home formerly stood (eleven Greenbriar residents were killed in the tornado). Underneath the dentist’s office, the concrete basement offered safety for the Huddleston family as the tornado passed.

The back portion of the dentist’s office basement level was untouched by the tornado. Dozens of people could have safely sheltered there from the full force of the F-5 tornado. However, the office was closed at the time. After being caught out in the storm, the Huddleston family brought their gravely injured daughter, Emily, in here to shelter from the rain and hail.

Kenny and Dianne Huddleston visit their daughter Emily at the hospital in Parsons, Kansas, where Emily was treated for a severe injury to one leg. Says Dianne: “She’s the strongest little girl I know.”

Emily Huddleston leaves the hospital after multiple surgeries and post-operative treatment for a severe wound to her leg, suffered during the tornado.

Emily Huddleston, still in a wheelchair after surgery, poses for a group photo with the rest of the South Middle School cheerleading squad.

Emily Huddleston marches with the South Middle School cheerleaders in the annual Maple Leaf Parade in Carthage, Missouri, in October of 2011, five months after the tornado. The spring following the tornado, she also went out for track. On the tornado's one-year anniversary, Emily ran in the Joplin Memorial Run 5-kilometer race and came in second for her age group for girls.

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