I was still in my 30’s when the Tornado hit Joplin, I’m 50 now

tornado photos
Photos by Shannon Becker taken and uploaded the night of the tornado, May 22, 2011.

I’m 50 years old now. I was still in my 30’s when the tornado hit Joplin. Here are some roughly-written thoughts of that first night I wrote them years ago.  They aren’t eloquent. But they are honest.

I rode out the tornado just outside the path in a basement. I had my cell phone and I gathered quickly it was a huge storm with a wide path.

I made 100% sure my immediate family was ok, and then I got my friend Amy Smith to give me a ride south on Main, less than a mile to where people would need help.

She dropped me around 22nd and Main.  That is where I started digging people out. I worked sometimes in groups and sometimes alone. Moving towards noises or what looked like a possibility.

I kept moving east towards the high school. Some house(s) along Virginia Ave had caught fire. There was a lot of hissing from natural gas lines broken.

I was taking pictures and putting them on facebook while searching. But my phone died along the way.

I spent what I thought was hours looking through piles of wood, stepping on nails, cutting my hands, hearing things I hadn’t heard before, seeing things I rarely think about.  I fell one time, tripping over a wire in the street and cut both my hands falling.




I believe around 24th and Kentucky there were noises and a group of guys and I removed debris to free people stuck in a basement. No one was hurt. But they kept coming out of that hole. Like clowns coming out of a VW bug, seemed to never end. Then no more people but here came the dogs following them out of the basement.

I kept moving east. I was now alone.

Near 23rd and Missouri I remember hearing a noise, what I thought was a wounded cat or dog. But it was people. A mother and adult daughter covered in mud and debris. I had to dig into the middle of the house. They were in the bathtub. The house had exploded. I carried them each separately over the debris out to the front yard. I scrambled around to find something to wrap around them. I found filthy and wet curtains. Used them like a blanket.  It was raining again. They were shivering.

The mother told me her husband was still in the house. I went back and looked where she said he would be. I went back to the front yard. I had to tell them he wasn’t coming with them.

I waved down a truck driving north on Missouri. I asked them to take the two to a triage or hospital.

I learned later who her  husband was, Hugh Odell Buttram, 85, Joplin. His obituary said he went by Odell. “Served as chaplain’s assistant in WWII. With graduate studies in marketing, became an accomplished salesman and spent more than 50 years in the insurance business.”

Shannon Becker, Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2011



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