Stories from the rubble: A CNN producer's impressions
CNN producer Matthew Hoye stands amid the rubble in Joplin, Missouri.
May 31st, 2011
02:20 PM ET

Stories from the rubble: A CNN producer's impressions

Editor's note: CNN producer Matthew Hoye shares his personal thoughts on covering the devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri.

In the past month, I've covered two of the worst tornadoes to hit the U.S. in decades.

The devastation and heartbreak in Tuscaloosa and Joplin are truly indescribable. I met so many people who, I think, could not process what had happened. I watched them climb through rubble in the unrecognizable landscape, searching for something familiar among shredded clothing, soaked and mildewy photos and smashed electronics. What looked like garbage to me was a keepsake to them. A torn family picture, a hand-me-down table or a random cell phone with pictures of the neighborhood were scattered among the miles and miles of twisted metal. There were brief smiles as mementos of the life that had been there just yesterday were found.

Jim Richards found his wife's immigration green card a couple of houses away from his previous home and, amazingly, his iPad buried under an overturned Jeep. He laughed as he told me the iPad cover was destroyed, but the iPad, with all his family photos, e-mails and contacts, worked just fine.

His wife, Stacy, clung to her dogs' kennels in the kitchen as the tornado ripped their house off its foundation. She said, "I could feel the dog's crates lifting up so I got on the floor and I was holding the dog crates and I had one other dog under my arm and things started to land on me." The debris included a central air conditioning system that trapped her and her dogs until a neighbor heard her screams from underneath and managed to dig her out. Those kennels kept the weight of the air conditioner from crushing her.

In Tuscaloosa, I heard eerily similar tales. Chris Wozniak threw on a motorcycle helmet and hopped into his bathtub with his two leashed dogs. His house rolled over him, and two Krispy Kreme doughnut trucks crashed through his living room. He said the dogs flew up into the air like kites, and the only reason they weren't sucked away and survived was because he held on so tightly to those leashes.

But among the survivor stories there was also incredible heartbreak. Steffanie Osborn lost her husband, Dennis, in the Home Depot in Joplin. She stood outside the wreckage all day on the day after the tornado struck, hoping he would come out. As a rescue worker, she had access to the site.

She said Dennis served a tour of duty in Iraq in the Army National Guard and was getting ready to deploy overseas again in a few weeks. His body was found May 24, and she was told he died a hero. "He was found covering a body to protect them from debris."

Fighting back tears, she added, "He was being a soldier. That's what he does."  When we last saw her, she was fighting with the county coroner to get his remains released so she could have a proper funeral.

As I headed home on Memorial Day, all I could think of was the people I've met. On Tuesday, I'll get my hair cut, pay bills and see my kids. On Wednesday, I'll go back to work. I've got my life back.

In Joplin, they're still searching through rubble, and along with the people of Tuscaloosa, they will live with the fallout from these horrible disasters for a lifetime. As for Osborn, she said it's too soon to think about what to do next, but in the next breath added that Dennis always wanted her to become a registered nurse, so she may go back to school to do so.

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Filed under: Alabama • Joplin • Missouri • Survivor Stories • Tornadoes • Weather
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Bob 2

    Ellis, where are u? Please don't go, we miss your nasty comments. what about the new sh!t you said you were going to post.

    May 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ellis

    You have to wait for it, my son. It's real heavy sh!t. Now is not the time or place.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob2Bob

      Ellis is going to lay some real heavy stuff on us. It will be worth the wait.

      May 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ling

    Very emotionally written, I feel it as much as the producer....we should all feel so blessed and God bless everyone.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ratso Rizzo

    Really well written

    May 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bob 2

    Good news, hope is soon, this is boring.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob2Bob

    Wait till Big Ellis gets here!

    May 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    Hey Ellis – I do too, well, I eat A LOT of chorizo. Never tried sucking one though.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob 2

    Go ahead Ellis you are not even close

    May 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob 2

    Oh Ellis, yes I have herpes, what a nasty thing to say. C'mon use new stuff.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob 2

    You are an insult to vulgarity. There's a special school to learn how to be real filthy. You are a disgrace to the vulgar community.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob 2

    Let's go Ellis, do it, I know you can.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bob 2

    Try harder, you are showing weakness. I told you to learn to be nasty, you sound like a girl.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob 2

    You need it, its very easy to be nasty but for you it seems to be very hard. You need to get more vulgar input via magazines or internet. You really sound like a little boy. You need new stuff, please start writing the crap you are going to use, that way it would be easier for you.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sam harnden

    CNN missed the Joplin storm system building up in Kansas Sunday morning and afternoon. The Weather Channel covered Kansas, and as it crossed into Missouri. TWC covered it into Joplin...and helped pull the firemen out of the fire station, and carried vit live on into St. Johns Hospital. CNN's weather head tried to explain, (Monday) that he missed it because there "so many storms that day"

    You made matters worse by showing up on Wolf S show with a hurricane expert from CA that admitted on live TV that he had never been to a tornado "in his life". It went down hill fast when your reporters started arguing with the State Representative and Governor about the lack of lead time...to me CNN LOST IT'S JOURNALISTIC WAY. You got scooped by TWC & NBC. You lost out big time on the story and tried to make up for it by bullying Governor Nixon. Both of those reporters need to go back Greece where you get roughed up again for misreporting....

    one of 267stormsystems....everyone but TWC & NBC was confused

    May 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob 2

    @ Ellis; I'm very disappointed with you, you promised to post new sh!t and we only see the same crap. Be serious and apply yourself, use your nasty imagination to be able to say something that people can enjoy.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
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