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Editorial Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 2, 2011
It builds slowly. “Hey, where do you want me to put everybody?” asks a man, his voice intense, but not panicked.
A woman’s voice is then heard counting the people who have stopped at a gas station in Joplin, Mo. on May 22. The man speculates that the beer cooler would hold 10 or 12 people.
“Five, six, seven, eight there’s probably 18 or 19,” the woman counts the people in the Joplin convenience store.
The video clip came to us through the marvel of modern communication. We’re on a list serve as members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, directed by Chad Stebbins at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. The day before the tornado hit, his son, Brennan, had graduated from the university.
Brennan Stebbins and his friends stopped their car and sought shelter in the gas station when they heard a tornado warning. His friend Isaac Duncan filmed the experience with his video camera and posted it on YouTube. Since the electricity was out, the four-minute clip is largely dark.
We closed our eyes to listen.
Someone comments that the sirens aren’t going.
“Yeah, they did,” a girl responds.
A child’s whimper can be heard among the low adult chatter.
A score of strangers cram into the cooler. “Everybody get down,” says a man. “Huddle on the ground.”
A low rumble begins to drown out the human voices. It builds, louder and louder. The human sounds can hardly be heard above the roar of the tornado.
A child wails.
Then there is silence.
“We’re good. We’re good. We’re good,” a man intones.
Then there’s a louder roar, punctuated with screams.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” calls a woman.
“I love you,” says a man.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Heavenly Father!” cries the woman.
“Stay down,” says a man.
“I’m right here. It’s OK.”
“We’re OK,” says another.
The roar starts to subside and human voices become more distinct.
“Everybody stay calm,” says a man. “Stay calm.”
“Are you OK?” asks a woman.
“I’m sorry,” says a girl.
“Are you OK?” asks a man.
“I’m right here,” says a girl.
“Mommy,” says a child, stretching out the last syllable.
Terror, we decided, sounds a lot like hope. Strangers thrown together facing death looked out for one another. Someone thought of going in the cooler. Someone else counted to see who would fit. They all crammed in.
The gas station was reduced to rubble and the neighborhood leveled. But those who had sought shelter in the cooler all survived. They walked away to rebuild their lives.
Human care comes through in this recording as clearly as terror.
As natural disasters rock our planet the way they have in recent months, we wish that we humans would show some of the care and concern so apparent in that Joplin cooler in the darkest of times. As we in industrialized nations release more and more carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, the greenhouse effect both dries and floods the Earth. In 2010, “weather events” a term used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration caused 489 fatalities and 2,369 human injuries, and caused close to $9.9 billion in property and crop damage. According to the NOAA tallies, this includes damage from lightning, tornados, thunderstorms wind, hail, extreme cold or heat, floods, ice, drought, dust storms, and rain.
This year’s damages aren’t yet tallied but heavy Midwestern snows, wildfires running rampant across the drought-weakened Southwest, and powerful southern tornados like the one in Joplin according to the NOAA’s National Weather Service office in Springfield, Mo., 142 people died and 750 were injured by the tornado, which it named the deadliest since the Service began keeping records in 1950 don’t bode well.
Can we take a count of the humans who want to survive? Can all of us be accommodated, saved from our self-destruction? We can if we develop policies and pass laws that will protect us in the long run.
It’s easy to ignore if the crisis is not at hand. Each of us should play Isaac Duncan’s clip. Listen to the sounds of terror and help in the darkness, and vow to set a wise course for our future.