Activities, new memories help Joplin community reflect on tornado nine years ago

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -- Nine years ago Friday, people in Joplin were in a cloud of disbelief, looking over extreme devastation caused by one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.

The EF-5 tornado was a mile wide, with winds speeds of more than 200 miles an hour. It was on the ground for 38 minutes. More than 150 people, another 1,100 people were injured and 200 buildings were destroyed, causing nearly $3 billion in damage.

On Friday, people in Joplin were still working to come to terms with what happened.

Nine years ago Kendall Chenault's cul-de-sac looked much different than it does today. Her home was destroyed by the EF-5 tornado that tore through Joplin.

"One day it just kind of clicked that I needed to find something to relax my mind and cope with what had happened," Chenault said.

Chenault turned to running to clear her mind.

"People cope with it differently, and I've learned that," she said.

Chenault ran 1.61 miles Friday to remember the 161 lives that were lost in the tornado on May 22, 2011.

"It hits home whenever you are running through those areas and it hasn't been build back, or as years go by it's hard to remember what used to be there," she said.

Every year, Chenault said she runs the Joplin Memorial Run as a way to look back on that day. Although it was postponed until December this year due to COVID-19, she still plans to run to look back on how far her hometown as come.

"That's my favorite part, you're running through the flags and you're thinking 'Wow, I'm lucky enough to be here running this 9 years later,'" Chenault said.

Others worked to bring new memories to the date May 22. One couple spent their afternoon in Mercy Park, where St. John's Regional Medical Center used to be, to give the day a new meaning.

"We want something to be happy about, not something to continue to grieve," said Shona Watkins.

Shona and Lonnie Watkins spent their afternoon in the park taking wedding photos, hours before they tied the knot.

"You know, that's something special for the both of us," Lonnie said.

Today, the old hospital site was surrounded by sun, full of love and people enjoying the city that has worked to rebuild itself over the years.

"It's so much of a blessing just to see the growth that has came back to this community. There are so many people that have got together, you know it's like family in this community," Lonnie said.

The city has not held a formal memorial for the tornado since 2013. A drive-thru remembrance scheduled for Friday was canceled by severe weather.