A walk through destruction



Destruction lies in the wake of an EF-2 tornado that tore through around 90 homes and businesses are destroyed with one fatality.

The biggest, most life changing difference between my German hometown and Missouri is the weather.

I never had a reason at home to feel in danger. We have no hurricanes, no earthquakes, no blizzards and no tornadoes that could change your life.

When I saw students running towards the shelters on Sunday, I realized that weather of all four seasons in just four days isn’t the hardest detail of Missouri’s weather, it’s the dangerous storms that rapid shift spawns.

I packed my passport and my laptop and ran outside. I was kind of excited. I had seen tornadoes in movies and on TV and always wanted to see that mighty natural force with my own eyes.

I asked myself: Car or shelter? But in the end I landed in the shelter under Dishman, while my roommate stuck together with fearful employees and customers in a restroom in Michael’s.

I felt imprisoned; I had to be outside where I could see my first twister. I wanted my picture. When I got released, I was pissed. I had missed my chance.

On the second day, after I heard the news from Quapaw, Okla. and Baxter Springs, Kan., which I had recently visited for a Route 66 trip, I drove to Baxter Springs to apply as a volunteer.

I felt ashamed for my touristy thoughts from the day before and wanted to help.

“We don’t need more volunteers, try it tomorrow,” said the unfriendly man in Baxter Springs High School, where access passes to the tornado zone were issued.

In the end, I left the school with a press card and entered the blocked zone with my camera to document the damages instead of with my gloves to clear them.

Some buildings were just gone, others missing their walls and the roof lying on the ground. I met a trucker. “Nice truck or not?” he said, smiling. That morning his rig lay on its side; the hood was found several miles away.

The roof of Baxters’ Mexican restaurant was damaged; most of the windows are broken, but the saltshakers and little sugar packets were still in their place.

Everywhere are residents cleaning up behind the storm, repairing their houses or clearing them out if repair seems senseless.

A lot of people streamed into Baxter Springs — disaster teams, volunteers who brought food and lunch for the victims and, of course, insurance agents. Hundreds of electric company crews worked under high pressure to reconstruct Baxter’s power supply as soon as possible. Police patrolled everywhere to protect Baxter from plunderers.

Dozens of journalists, mostly camera teams, swarmed out to talk with residents. A FOX reporter test-read her text in a sad voice, standing on a patio that was formally connected to a house, before smiling and shouting an overfriendly “Hi!” to me.

Lots of showbiz in Baxter in these days. Some of the biggest generators in town are the ones that supply the news teams’ trailers, even while most homes are without power.

Even more shocking for me as an over-insured European: Many people don’t know if they are insured and how much of the damages are covered. Incomprehensible.

I walked around two hours through Baxter, shooting pictures and talking to residents and still had not seen each damaged house.

In Quapaw, which I visited afterwards, the damages were easier to look at, but more intense. Some houses had completely lost their walls and the roof, while the furniture still stood in place.

It’s a wonder that not more people were killed or injured, because Quapaw wasn’t warned.

Baxter was.

I was impressed by the people’s will to keep moving on. I couldn’t see resignation in their eyes, couldn’t feel sadness.

Stick the stars and stripes in the ruins and carry on.

This spirit touched me, much more than seeing a twister ever could.