Joplin Tornado Uproots Lives

Mary Hazelbaker

What do you say to an 83-year-old woman who just lost everything. I could only utter “I’m sorry.”

When we rolled into Joplin Monday morning to cover the tornado disaster, I knew it would be a horrible sight. But nothing could prepare me for what I saw. Miles of destruction. It was hard to imagine barely 12 hours earlier, these were neighborhoods and businesses. Places people lived and worked. Now, it was gone.

83-year-old Mary Hazelbaker lived alone. She stood in front of what once was her home, now just a pile of lumber, with everything she owned scattered about.  She just stared at it. Mary had collected nearly half a century of memories there. “What do you miss most about it,” I asked her. “I just put in new windows,” said Mary, “and I miss looking out of those windows.”

30 percent of Joplin sustained major or significant damage from Sunday evening’s tornado. As of Monday evening the confirmed death count was 116. Not a hundred yards from Mary’s house there was commotion. A dozen searchers surrounded the front of another home. A white sheet was brought out to cover what was found.

Mary wasn’t home at 6 o’clock Sunday evening. She was at church. That probably saved her life.

As I drove through the Joplin neighborhoods, it was clear something more powerful than I could ever imagine had passed through here the evening before. I know it’s an overused cliché, but it truly did look like a war zone.  Like a huge bomb detonated here. Cars and trucks stacked and strewn everywhere. Hospital beds where there was no hospital. Homes reduced to scattered brick and lumber. The lonely skeletons of trees standing guard. People walking aimlessly.

Mary wanted to look for her belongings in the rubble. I told her it was too dangerous. Nails. The smell of gas. “But who will clean it up?” Mary wanted to fix it. She wanted everything  like it used to be. Like the hundred year old tree laying on its side in her yard, the twister had uprooted her life.

Before I left Mary, I asked her one last question. “What are you going to do now?” She stared at her house for a moment, then quickly turned to me with the spunk that probably got her through her 83 years. “I don’t know. What do you think I should do now? What can I do?” I don’t know either.

11 Comments on “Joplin Tornado Uproots Lives

  1. Hey Mark, I saw a photo of Mary on CNN and it really moved me. I googled her name and your website came up. I just want to know if there is anything I can do to help Mary directly, I feel a great deal of sympathy and sorrow for her. I feel horrible that I cannot do anything for her. My prayers and best wishes go out to her and everyone effected by these tornadoes. If there is a website that I can make a donation to Mary that you know of, please let me know. I’m just a student but I’m sure anything can help.

    • Thanks for asking about Mary Hazelbaker. I lost contact with Mary after I talked with her. I’m trying to find her again. I’ll let you know if I do. Unfortunately, there are so many sad stories like hers out of Joplin.

  2. I live in Colorado and I want to help. I’ll donate to the American Red Cross but what can I do to help Mary Hazelbacker, she has no family, she’s alone, I want to help her.

    • Hi Kylie. You’re not the only one who wants to help Mary. As I told someone else, I lost contact with her, and I’m trying to find her again. If I do, I’ll let you know. Thanks for caring so much.

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  6. Mary is my aunt. Even though I live in Colorado, at least it is a relief to know that Aunt Mary and my Uncle Jack are alive and everything else can be replaced. Her sister, my mom, Helen will be coming out in July to see what she can do to help. Thank you to everyone who made the comments and show there care. Thanks to Mark Bradshaw for writing the article.

    • Hello Angela… My name is Christine and I saw your aunts story on the news this morning. Can you tell me when her birthday is and when her home will be done?

  7. This case was on the front page of CNN. It is so unfortunate that after 47 years someone had to lose their home and everything that belonged to them. How is Mary doing now? I hope she got the help she needed as people were trying to reach out. =/ I hate to see her live the rest of her life unfortunate..

  8. Pingback: Moore Tornado: What Victims Need Most Is “Prayer” – In The Noozroom

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