Survivor: Tornadoes always 'came and went' but never left destruction like this
Part of a mangled car door sits atop a tree near the spot where Charles Richardson's home once stood.
May 25th, 2011
01:01 PM ET

Survivor: Tornadoes always 'came and went' but never left destruction like this

Editor's Note: CNN's Ashley Fantz, who grew up in Missouri, is on the ground in Joplin talking with residents who survived the tornado.

As a little girl growing up in Missouri my parents rushed me into our basement several times when the tornado sirens went off. They always did a good job of making it seem fun, like we were going to play down there. Each time we emerged, luckily there was no damage. I don't recall anything terrible happening.

So as I got older and the sirens sounded, I usually went outside to watch the night sky light up. Dark clouds always pass, I figured. I rarely thought about getting hurt. Like a lot of people who grow up here, I figured the odds were on my side.

I heard the same refrain from folks in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri.

It was just going to be a big awful storm and it would pass. Everything would be fine - that's what survivors told me over and over as they stood on the splinters of their homes.

Trees on one block were decapitated. A car door hung 30 feet in the air from one of the huge old sycamores that had refused to give up its thickest limb.

An older man, looking dazed, stood on a swath of insulation. Charles Richardson - with red suspenders neatly holding his Carhartt jeans in place - wore a backpack oxygen tank, the tubes running into his nose. His beige work shirt was covered with dry patches of blood. As I got a few feet from him, I saw he was crying. I stopped.

"Come on now, come on," he said.

Interview me if you need to, his tone said, just ask your questions and leave me alone because this is hard enough.

He blew his nose with a pink handkerchief and told me he had lived in Joplin his whole life.

"I've seen tornadoes come and go," he said. "This one came when I happened to be in my garage. It came so fast and I went and ran from my house but it was there and it was on me."

He paused.

"You know it's funny girl, I used to love to watch these," he said. "But this one was so black. It was not what I wanted to see."

His voice trailed off. He looked around.

Everything he had ever owned was no more. The only recognizable thing left of the home he had lived in his entire life was the skeleton of a fireplace - a dozen bricks.

He looked at me again.

"They always came and went," he said.

He didn't know this storm would be any different.

I didn't know what else to say to him, so we just stood there together for a minute. I told him my name. I said that I had grown up with the sirens and I used to think the storms were beautiful too.

He, meanwhile, tugged on his red suspenders trying to keep himself from crying in front of me, a young woman - a stranger.

Then he put his hands on my arm and said, "That's enough, girl."

There was nothing else to say.

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri • On the Ground • Survivor Stories • Tornadoes
soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. George

    Holy criminies. Any chance you can check in on Charles Richardson again in a day or two?

    May 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dept. Homeland Security

    George Richardson died on May 24, 2011.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • DCNY

      Is George related to Charles?

      May 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alina77

    When I arrived from Europe to America I asked my husband "Why are these houses made of toilet paper?"
    Build brick homes people, especially in the states where this kind of hammering happening every year.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • knucklehead

      Brick wouldn't help. When they're a mile wide, it don't matter. This ain't the big bad wolf.

      May 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • melme

      are you KIDDING! that must be why the hospitals made of concrete and schools made of brick are GONE. Idiot. You've never been in one of these – Just stop.

      May 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenn

      Often times it doesn't matter what the homes are made of. With an EF5 rated storm (as this was rated), the storm is so violent that most structures would not be able to withstand it. Look at what happened to the hospital? That was a concrete building and it sustained massive damage. Unfortunately, the homes that could sustain at least some damage are far to expensive for most people to build or purchase. Best you can do is make sure your homeowners insurance is at 100% of the replacement cost of the home (the rebuild cost...not market value). While it doesn't make losing everything any better, it at least gives you a chance to build again.

      May 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • nat

      What a scary thing to go through. I really think folks living in tornado alley would do well to consider building monolithic domes for all the structures there as these are supposed to be able to withstand natural disasters. If that were done, every building would be an emergency shelter. When the same thing happens over and over again, it's time to scrap buildings that don't work. Traditional stick building just doesn't work in tornado, flood and hurricane areas but monolithic domes do. The can even be built to withstand sea surges.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keksi

      Reinforced concrete houses WILL stand against EF5 tornado.Hospital is still standing.
      Reinforced concrete house is made out of rebars and concrete,no tornado can rip that out of ground.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guido

      Brilliant comment. So I suppose multiple generations of wallpaper/paint on the walls of your decrepit euro-flat provides structural support right?

      My thoughts are with the people of Joplin.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • meh

      lol..your the same guy who said build houses on stilts 40 feet high to survive the tsunamis!!

      May 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • LP

      In my area it's rare to see a house that isn't made of brick. I don't think there's a house like that for miles. Guess what? The April 27th storms flattened dozens of large, sturdy brick houses around here and tore off the roof off of others. If you don't know what you're talking about, don't come here and post.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keksi

      Brick is NOT reinforced concrete house.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grumpster

      I really have to agree with the others here...what an idiot you are. You build concrete there 'cause it's CHEAP and you've already got limited wood resources. Not much survives 200+ MPH winds...and reinforcing with rebar would be cost prohibitive, especially given the actual miniscule odds you'd really be hit by a tornado. Odds are really that small..but you hear about it because of media.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keksi

      I guess people in eastern Europe can afford reinforced concrete homes.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. A Shame

    Beautiful and powerfully written.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • RC

      Yes, very well written! Felt like I was there with Mr. Richardson.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Txmeteor

      Beautifully written. If only others in the media could capture a story so simply yet so powerfully. Ms Fantz has talent.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lee Oates

    I am calling for an investigation of the takeover of all CNN sites on Libya by, apparently paid, Gadhafi people. All views that support the rebels are being deleted. This is foreign intervention into the right of Americans to express their views.It would seem that Gadhafi's supporters are frightened to face criticism from Americans, so do everything they can to block it.

    The great majority of commenters have been against Gadhafi, a bloody dictator and murderer, and have been systematically removed since the conflict began. CNN is no longer a place to exchange opinions, it has become a Gadhafi propaganda machine.

    I will continue to place this message on every news media outlet I can until some action is taken.

    May 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      The world is going to in in 2012 anyway, so sit back and relax Lee. As far as the weather goes, Mother Nature has had it with our shyt and is handing us our a sses now.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vic of New York

    Hey... Better talk to your local Conservative. After all, "No such thing as Global Warming"!

    May 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nat

    What a scary thing to go through. I really think folks living in tornado alley would do well to consider building monolithic domes for all the structures there as these are supposed to be able to withstand natural disasters. If that were done, every building would be an emergency shelter. When the same thing happens over and over again, it's time to scrap buildings that don't work. Traditional stick building just doesn't work in tornado, flood and hurricane areas but monolithic domes do. The can even be built to withstand sea surges.

    May 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf The Dog

      Not if your monolithic domes had windows. When a storm gets into the high end of the F-5 scale, it can rip the concrete off of the road. Concrete construction with lots of rebar is cool. It is not invincible.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guido

      Geodesic domes.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf The Dog

      @ Guido,

      Not Geodesic, monolithic. Monolithic domes are not faceted but smooth. They are made out of concrete and have lots of rebar. Unfortunately, domes are not an efficient use of space and unless you want to live in a cave, they need windows.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. wally

    i don't understand why no reporters have looked at the time line from the nuclear material spiiied into the Pacific Ocean and the subsequent floods, excessive rains, winds and tornadoes in this country. it is not global warming because it didn't happen in the east of the Atlantic Ocean , northern hemispheres, at the same time. look at the jet streams and prevailing winds and, no surprise, we get most of our moisture from the Pacific. The reason nuclear plants are built next to water is to cool the reactors. when the radioactive material is spilled into the ocean, it not only increases the radiation levels in the water, i n this case dramatically noted by moving our warships which were supposed to be helping, because of the radiation levels miles out at sea. The radiation adds thermal energy to the water, which presumably increases evaporation, leading to more water in the air coming our way. Although not saying there is radiation in the clouds, there may be conversion from H2O to D2O, which would add to the amount of energy in the clouds and weather systems. What we don't have is the amount or dose of radiation which has been poured in and for which a computer model could be made to figure out how long these weather patterns will exist. if there is radioactive iodine in the water, it has a half life of thirty days, but other atoms like cesium have half lives of thirty thousand years, and this would have long term implications. Someone in the government or the weather systems must be gathering this data, but none of it has been released. Is this a coverup or is this a coverup?

    May 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf The Dog

      The total change in temperature caused by the radioactive release would be offset by the sunlight reflected into space by one large thunderstorm. The planet is big.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Txmeteor

      Scare someone, and you can sell them anything.

      You know just enough science to be dangerous.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me in IN

      Nuclear material dumped into the Pacific? Really?? All year they've been talking about how the weather patterns & jet stream are being affected by the typical La Nina weather cycle... Its not nuclear radiation or little green men from Mars....

      May 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. chris

    gee this is what happens when a huge wedge tornado tears through a town.......not a little rope tornado. if a rope went through town we still wouldn't know where joplin, MS is! it's not as much climate change as it is less populated areas are becoming more densely populated. This summer the dry line is abnormally east due to the lack of rain in Tx.....there are plenty of reason why this is a bad yr not to solely blame big bad climate change.

    May 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • francesmomto3

      Its Joplin MO...Not MS...two different states. And Joplin isn't some po-dunk town in Missouri. Its the 4th largest town in Missouri.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Another former Midwesterner

    Thank you for trying to help people who are not from tornado-prone areas understand what the people in the Joplin area are going through – how it's so hard to comprehend. Time and time again, those sirens wail and a half hour later everything is okay. The clouds are ominous, but they are captivating to watch, and the power of the storms is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I, too, was one who would hear the sirens and be more likely to head to the porch rather than the basement. Unfortunately, this storm didn't just pass through after dramatically displaying the power of nature/God/whatever-you-want-to-call-it – it left a lasting mark on the landscape and on the lives of people who live in or have ties to that area.

    May 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ralf The Dog

    People standing outside to watch a storm are more likely to be killed by lightning than a tornado. That said, everyone should have a weather radio. When it gives the alarm, Watch local TV and use the internet to track the storm. That also said, I need to change the batteries in my smoke detectors. (No one is perfect).

    May 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. susan

    I love this article, really well written and touching

    May 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan K, Philly

    @Vic – your right, tornadoes occuring in tornado alley during the height of tornado season is all due to global warming!

    May 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MeeHee Hee

    It's too much petroleum viscosity in the Atlantic ocean. There is something happening to the mixture of fresh and salt water in the Atlantic. Whatever the greasy effect is that plays a part in how weather patterns stir within the skins of the sky beneathe the stratosphere.

    May 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacob

      This is impossible. Oil does not evaporate and mix with water vapor in the clouds.

      May 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. francesmomto3

    God bless Charles Richardson. Hopefully he has family that can help. What a touching story.

    May 25, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
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