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. Josie

    This was an amazing article. I look at the pictures and cannot recognize a lot of places there. I spent many summers and Christmas breaks out there visiting my grandparents. I am lucky they were not hit, but my heart does go to those that have not only lost everything but loved ones as well. I live in Kansas, and even here we don't have basements in every home, plus if something like this happens you might not be at your home at all. It's better to know where the sturdy buildings are or get to the lowest point in the ground and lay down. Tornado season is just getting started, and to me it's not looking good!

    May 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Roosevelt Tann

    May God be with everyone on this sad day of event my prayer go out to every one,/ps Roo Tann,From. Maryland

    May 25, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. lisa

    They told me when I bought my new home it was built to withstand a level 4 hurricaine but having lived thru 4 of the top hurricaines on record and countless tornatos I say BAH HUMBUG! When it come directly for me I can kiss my butt goodbye! I feel for these poor suffering people! This article so much reminded me of my grandfather and makes my ache! God bless their souls!

    May 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Marsha

    People need to get off their high horse with the types of homes these people lived in. With this economy, people are fortunate to have ANY roof over their head. We should keep these people in our prayers that they will recover and thrive again.

    May 25, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ash44

    It is sad to see the number of people killed by the natural disaster. I can imagine the pain and sadness of those people that start their day by bombs from US drone attacks. We must not take any life as a joke, killing of innocent humans must be stopped, or else God knows well how to equalizse the numbers.

    May 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Inmaskadore

      Thanks so much with regard to giivng me an update on this subject matter on your blog. Please realize that if a brand-new post appears or in case any alterations occur to the current post, I would be considering reading a lot more and learning how to make good usage of those techniques you reveal. Thanks for your time and consideration of other folks by making this web site available.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hunter

    That's what she said

    May 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacob

      And you're going to post this... how many times?

      May 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veronica

      Ern,No, I'm not getting that from the aticrle. I have seen what female abuse can do to men first-hand, it is emotionally devastating and can create one of two psychological consequences in men–one is a combination of anger and difficulty connecting to others and the other is a never-ending desire to please a woman for whom he is never good enough. Rage and frustration can lead to doing something illegal or violent and the latter can lead a man to choose a woman who will give him a lifetime of pain. Neither are good outcomes. Society makes it difficult for men to discuss these issues and even to seek treatment for it. For women, it is just the opposite. They are told they need help for any type of abuse, even if the "abuse" is minor or imaginary.While I don't think it is healthy too dwell constantly on abuse, I do think that men who have been abused can get help from a good professional and should not be shy about seeking that help.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ben

    Wonderful story. Personal. Touching. Heartfelt. You can throw a million hard facts at me, but one teardrop will win every time. Nice Job, Ashley.

    May 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Martha

    STOP. Just STOP. Nothin matters except the people of Joplan,Mo. We all need to be praying for their welfare.I pray for all my fellow Wal-Mart associates. We are here for you guys. Hang in there.

    May 25, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • js

      might want to get the name right then.

      May 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Name*PHILIP

    I do hope those who survived can rebuild a new life. But please, enough with the " God be with them" Crap. Why wasn't he with them when the damn thing was ripping their lives apart? Geeezee this " God" of yours never ever accepts any responsibility, even though he is omnipotent and can stop anything from happening.

    May 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuyFromWheaton

      Thank goodness someone wrote what's obvious.

      May 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz

      The reason for God not stepping is not really the important thing to focus on, the *why not* will be answered in God time not ours. Maybe the answer is in the *Why*.

      May 25, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jamie

    I have a brick house here in Alabama, and it would not have been able to withstand the tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa or Joplin. Like many here, I do not have a basement. I am now researching tornado shelters which can be installed under my garage. I have lived in tornado-prone areas most of my life, but I have seen things I have never seen before this season.

    May 25, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nic

      Jamie, I am in the same boat. Really want to get this done before complacency takes over. I'm afraid that many of us will move into the summer/fall and the impact of this horrific event will begin to deminish. I may never use the shelter but I definitely want one NOW!! Think it should be an advertised standard option in all newly built homes and a mandatory addition to all businesses. Thanks for sharing!

      May 26, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. hoorayforlogicyay

    that's what she said. "it came so fast"

    May 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eball in nc

    I agree with the posts regarding the sympathic wonderful article that was written . As a person who lived through a massive hurricane season in fl, starting with charlie, ending finally with wilma. When towns get devastated, no food @ the stores, no electric in the sweltering heat, people fiighting @ 7am over lumber, no gas @ the pumps, etc And now here in nc with our own set of tornadoes a while back, a best friend in ok, 30 milns from joplin told me of the 'problem' when it hit there. I spent half the last night worrying when he tells me an f5 is heading his way. So my heart stopped. lucky theyre ok. But so many others are not.. I dont do blog-1st time. Couldnt listen 2 so much nonsense about rebar, concrete vs brick.,nonsense, from people who seem 2 play games in the sandbox. All this bantering and egotistical pontificatory rhetoric from people who may not even be qualified 2 make statements about things is astounding. Last comment.thx 4 all of yalls sentiments 4 all the victims thats whats important

    May 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Winona Coronado

    These people that make these comments about the way houses are built, storm shelters & basements have never been in a tornado!! I live in Northeast Alabama and on April 27th we had many tornados!! It ripped people out of basements and storm shelters plus it destroyed many homes and businesses made of brick & concrete!! Tornados can hit so fast and are very deadly!!

    May 25, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      Actually very few of them are deadly. But yeah, and E-F5 tornado is hard to survive. For most tornadoes you can simply head to the center of your house, or a closet, but an E-F5 you need to be underground. There are so many stories of past F5 tornados like the one in Jasper TX. Many of the bodies found were hudled together in what had been closets thinking they would be safe. If this had been an E-F3 there would not have been many dead if any at all. A tornado this size is just bad. Thankfully the chance of one happening are really low.

      May 25, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sujit John

    get out sooner the better from Libya,Iraq,Afghanistan,Pak and all such places and come back here for rescue and let live,don't bomb the innocents,don't show your might to world instead help them with your rich technology..all of us are vulnerable and vulnerable enough to be destroyed.may the good sense prevail to policy makers and lest the destructive tornado,tsunami,and quakes..(

    May 26, 2011 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Satheesh

      Good.....Keep it up.....we both have 62 in our emails......

      November 18, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Observer1290

    Obama is criminally insane.

    May 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
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