Ms. Asbell's account:
In Southwest Missouri, we are used to the tornado sirens. In Joplin, when we hear them, frequently the first things we do is head for the nearest door to search the skies. The night of May 22, we did just that. However, this night something was different about what we saw. It was very different from the hundreds of other nights I'd spend scanning the skies. We sensed that this wasn't just another night of sirens, this was serious. I took shelter in our hallway, huddled with Jonathan, our bird, and the radio. The initial reports said that they expected a tornado to touch down in the Airport Drive area, the portion of town where our home is located. The predictions continued to change, and finally spotters reported that the tornado had touched down at St. John's--the spot of our last 5th grade field trip only 2 days before. We heard that the storm was continuing to cut a path across the city. As we sat and listened to the reports of what was going on around us, all I could think about was, "Where are the people I love- my family, friends, co-workers, and students?"
As we began to hear reports that the tornado had passed and that destruction filled our town, we decided to leave our home to locate loved ones and account for their safety. Along the way, we saw so much devastation, and I kept thinking how blessed I was to have been living in a home untouched by the storm’s fury. We slowly made our way across town- I saw the apartment complex where many of our students lived. There were many familiar faces standing on the porches with looks of panic and shock. I felt numb. As we neared Emerson, dread began to fill me. I knew that it was on the edge of the path, but I was uncertain how much of the storm would have reached it. We approached from the north side of the school, the side that my classroom was on, and I just saw windows shattered and the pitch-black darkness of a building without electricity. I began to weep, thinking about my home away from home—my classroom. We couldn't get very close to the building due to downed trees and power lines, so we continued to cross town, attempting to reach Ms. Lawrence, my co-teacher. Just south of Emerson there were many fires caused by breaks in gas lines. Smoke filled the streets and people were wandering around wrapped in blankets. It was surreal driving through the wasteland that my beloved town had become. I felt panicked and nervous trying to make contact with those I love. The whole town was filled with people who just had looks of shock and terror on their faces.
It took us hours to cross town, being unable to ever reach Ms. Lawrence's home, but feeling relief when I finally got word that she was safe. As we slowly began to hear from those who lived in the affected area, the enormity of the situation began to set in. I knew immediately life was going to be different-- very different, and for a VERY long time. We spent the rest of the night listening to emergency service vehicles and rescue helicopters race back and forth saving lives. The next day, we went set out to help others pick up the pieces- a process that continues today.
Over the next several days, we began to take stock of all the things lost. Joplin Schools lost the high school, technical center, a middle school, and an elementary school. Our school and several others were badly damaged. A total of 10 out of the 18 buildings had received some damage in the storm. The district worked diligently to account for the 9000+ students and employees. Within the week all were accounted for. Sadly, 7 students and 1 staff member were lost in the storm.
Every student in Room 210 has been accounted for. While several in Room 210 have lost their homes, no one was critically injured. Our school building suffered damage, particularly the wing that housed Room 210. Most everything within was lost. It was a full week before we could enter the building. When I stepped foot in my room, it was like entering a foreign land, not the classroom I had just spent the last nine months in. It was emotionally exhausting to look around and take stock of the pieces of my career that were strewn about and covered in debris.
Emerson will not be our home next year, as we have been relocated to Duquesne Elementary until decisions are made about the state of our school. Since the day of classroom cleanup, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that people have given to me and my students. Joplin has initiated a campaign called Adopt-A-Classroom and Room 210 has been matched up with Mrs. Buhlinger- another 5th grade teacher whose classroom is located in Bartlesville, OK. We have also been paired with a group of retired teachers out of the Oklahoma City area, headed up by Ms. Nancy Powell. We have been contacted by an office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services with an interest in helping. And have been the beneficiaries of a campaign spear-headed by a 5th grade girl from New Jersey. We have also been the winner of the TeachHUB, My Classroom is a Hot Mess contest thanks to the voting of thousands of friends and total strangers! We have also been the recipient of donations that completed four Donors Choose projects! We have also received private donations from my family & friends who want to show their love and support to my students.
Our new classroom will have a different room number and location, and we have a long road ahead in rebuilding collections of books and classroom tools that were lost. I'm know with the help of all of our compassionate benefactors, and a lot of hard work on my part, that I will rebuild a classroom still feel like the Room 210 we knew and loved.
View pictures of the building and classroom after the tornado: http://s960.photobucket.com/albums/ae84/msasbell/May%2022%20Tornado/
If you would like to donate to our classroom, follow the links below.