Update: Four outstanding aerial view photos of the damage in Joplin are now available at the Daily Mail website . Since they're copyrighted AP photos, they cannot be published here. New casualty figures as of 4:50 P.M. May 24th have now been posted.
This story illustrates either the spiritual power of Jesus Christ, the capricious nature of tornadoes, or perhaps a mixture of both. Among the estimated 8,000 buildings damaged or destroyed by the May 22nd, 2011 F5 tornado which roared through the heart of Joplin, Missouri was the stake center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was the meetinghouse for the Joplin First and Second Wards. It was virtually reduced to rubble -- except for one wall where a painting showing Jesus Christ and the Last Supper hung. You can see in the photo below that the painting emerged virtually unscathed:
The same photo was also posted as a CNN iReport. A gallery of additional photos can be found on The Bowles Family blog. They live within the boundaries of the Joplin Missouri Stake, although not in the city proper, and they describe their impressions of the damage in this post. They note that their stake president's home was destroyed. LDS Newsroom reports that all missionaries in the affected areas are safe and accounted for.
Just found this video that provides an aerial tour of Joplin after the tornado. The chopper is flying from west to east. At about the 1:20 point, they approach the large Joplin High School complex. Directly across the street is the remains of the stake center. They fly over the stake center, and you can see the blacktop parking lot behind it:
Even if you are not a believer in a Supreme Being or a religious system, you have to be amazed at this example of how a tornado can be capricious and selective about the damage it inflicts. There are stories about how the 1999 Salt Lake tornado, which began in downtown, dodged the Salt Lake Temple and then touched down again in the Avenues.
The Joplin tornado touched down around 5:41 P.M. on May 22nd just west of the St. John's Medical Center; its path was adjudged to be 1/2 mile wide and traveled six miles. The National Weather Service has now upgraded it to an F5, and estimated it reached maximum wind speeds of over 200 mph. As of 4:50 P.M. on May 24th, the death toll has now reached 122, with 750 people injured and an estimated 8,000 structures damaged or destroyed. Useful local media sources include the Springfield News-Leader, KY3.com, KOLR Channel 10, and KSPR Channel 33, all operating in nearby Springfield, Missouri.
A graphic showing the path of the tornado is now available HERE.
KSL Channel 5 reported on reaction from Utahns with ties to Joplin. Natalie Colby, working with a group based in Tulsa, OK, said that the tornado came within 600 yards of the group's vehicles. The group was watching the storm pattern, waiting for it to dissipate, but then suddenly the storm intensified and the tornado touched down on a direct path toward them. They thought briefly about sheltering in a Home Depot, but changed their mind and continued driving. That same Home Depot was leveled by the tornado.
Missouri native Kelli Riem, who was baptized into the LDS Church at the Joplin stake center 31 years ago, heard about the tornado at her home in Brigham City and quickly turned her attention to her aunt living in the area. Her aunt lives near the severely-damaged St. John's Hospital, but it turned out her aunt's house was only slightly damaged, while everything around it was completely destroyed.
And a Utah pastor has launched his own relief efforts. Senior Pastor Myke Crowder of the Christian Life Center church grew up in Joplin, has relatives who have lost homes there, and now plans to take an RV full of clothes, supplies, money and whatever can be mustered to Joplin. His church has teamed up with local businesses to create several drop-off locations; including the Layton Christian Academy (2352 E. HWY 193 in Layton, UT 84015), the Automatic Car Credit locations in Salt Lake City, Layton and Ogden, and Northern Realty inside the Layton Hills Mall.
Those who want to assist in relief efforts can visit the USA Today website and consider the numerous options offered.