Returning to Joplin one year later

Joplin, Missouriâ?¦one of the most vibrate cities in the "four states" region encompassing Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas with a population of about 50,000.

I had the opportunity of living here. I moved to Joplin in August of 2009 to begin my broadcast meteorology career. I grew to love this city and its people. After a year and a half of calling Joplin home, I left Joplin in mid-April 2011 to come to work at KTVOâ?¦little did I know what was going to happen here just 5 weeks later.

May 22, 2011 began as any other day for Joplin residents. People were going along with their usual Sunday routinesâ?¦it was hot and sunny.

â??I just knew, somehow I knew by looking up at the sky, something was going to happen," said my friend and Joplin resident Kate Inman. "I donâ??t know how. But by lookingâ?¦something was going to happen.â??

The afternoon brought the threat of severe weather as thunderstorms began to pop up in southeastern Kansas and strengthen and developed as they moved east. By 5pm, a black sky started moving into the city. The first tornado sirens sounded at 5:09 and a second at 5:17.

â??Theyâ??ve gone off before, normally, you donâ??t think anything of it. You just know â??OK.â?? It could be worse, but the chances of it being bad are not likely,â?? said my friend and Joplin resident Michelle Hill.

Then at 5:35, just off of Black Cat Road on the Missouri/Kansas State Line and 32nd Street on the western end of town, a tornado touched down and strengthens to an EF-5 in less than 5 minutes and the city of Joplin would be changed forever.

â??I looked at the TV, and they were showing a tower cam of the tornado," said my friend and Joplin resident Marian Kelly. "It was rain wrapped so you couldnâ??t see the rotation. But then you see transformers exploding. They were saying on TV, â??This is a tornadoâ?¦anywhere in the city of Joplin, take cover now.â??

At exactly 5:41pm, the EF-5 tornado began its reign of terror on the city of Joplin. One of the first victims of the tornado was at St. Johnâ??s Hospital on 26th Street.

St. Johnâ??s Regional Medical Center sustained heavy damage. Many windows and the exterior walls were damaged and the upper floors destroyed. There are still rumors to this day that the powerful tornado shifted St. Johnâ??s by four inches. Several fatalities were reported at and near St. Johnâ??s.

Virtually every house in the area near 26th Street was flattened; some were swept completely off their foundations. Trees sustained severe debarking. The Greenbriar Nursing Home and St. Maryâ??s Catholic Church and School were also flattened. The only thing left standing was the churchâ??s cross.

As the tornado tracked eastward, it intensified as it crossed Main Street between 20th and 26th Streets at about 5:45. Virtually every business along that stretch was heavily damaged or destroyed. More houses were flattened or blown away near 20th Street, and trees were stripped of bark.

At 5:48, Joplin High School on 20th Street was hit and destroyed. No one was there at the time. The high school graduation ceremonies were held at Missouri Southern State University that same afternoon.

Throughout the city, many people were taking cover and feared for their lives. For my friends who I talked to, most who talked to me off camera, and the few who talked to me on camera said it was by far the scariest experience of their lives.

â??I cleaned out my closet and grabbed my mattress. I literary was hunched down in my closet, holding my mattress against the door,â?? Inman said.

â??I began to hear the sound of a freight train, and I thought â??Oh my God...itâ??s going to hit me.â?? It got louder and louder, it sounded more like jet engines. Then I heard an explosion. I was hunkered down in a crawl space,â?? Kelly said.

â??The sky was getting black. It was a purple black. It was nothing like I have ever seen before,â?? Hill said.

This was only the beginning. For the EF-5 tornado, it wasn't done with Joplin yet.

To see raw footage of Joplin tornado damage, click here.

To see the raw interview of Vanessa's friend Kate, click here.

To see the raw interview of Vanessa's friend Marian, click here.

To see the raw interview of Vanessa's friend Michelle, click here.

To see pictures of Joplin while Vanessa was living there before the tornado, click here.

To see more pictures of Vanessa's trip to Joplin after the tornado, click here.