July 3, 2011
In Joplin, Mo., a Declaration of Endurance
By DAN BARRY
JOPLIN, Mo. — For the last few nights, brief shimmers of fireworks have sparkled in the dark skies over Joplin, heralding the approach of another national birthday. But the monstrous tornado that mowed through here six weeks ago forced the city to change its Fourth of July plans.
That’s right; plans were changed. Monday’s celebration of the Fourth in the partially destroyed city of Joplin will be bigger and louder and better than ever, and will end with an extended display of glittery starbursts designed to brighten the faces of all looking skyward.
There will be ice cream, and games, and country-western music, and inflatable bouncy houses, and fellow Missourian Rush Limbaugh, who will seize the moment to promote an iced tea drink flavored with Tea Party fervor. But there will be no references to the tornado that killed 158 people: no American Red Cross booth; no salespeople for Twister Safe and other tornado-protection products. “We want to have one day without thinking about it,” Beth Peacock, the events manager for the city’s parks, explained. “Tuesday’s going to be here soon enough.”
On Tuesday morning, the street-baking sun will reclaim the sky and cast light once again on a city that is one-third damaged or gone — a city, though, that is working its way toward physical and psychological recovery. Mayor Mike Woolston signaled this communal resolve recently when he ordered that flags be finally raised to full-staff; the time, he said, has come for this city of 50,000 to focus on the living.
A first-time visitor to Joplin today might gasp at the sight of some of its neighborhoods: the destroyed and vacant houses; the stripped trees; the front steps leading to emptiness; the crushed cars evoking the dead; the many streets that, come eerie nighttime, have no power, no light, no life.