Once Stately Trees Tell a Tale of Destruction in Joplin

By A.J. Sulzberger
Joplin, MO (May 30, 2011)- The tornado’s destruction two Sundays ago was so absolute in some areas of this city that the sweep of the landscape is now broken only by the thick skeletons of oak, elm and hickory.


Stripped bare by the swirling wind – as if ravaged by wildfire – their remains stand sentinel over a wasteland, with the unnatural leaf litter of a residential neighborhood spread below them. In some, debris is perched in jagged branches like vultures. The trees that surrendered to the winds of more than 200 miles per hour became weapons of destruction, the trunks crumpling cars and houses and the branches sailing off as missiles. In the aftermath they became obstacles, blocking roads and complicating recovery efforts with the weight of their many years until they were broken by chain saws, to be hauled away and burned in massive pyres on the outskirts of town.
The established urban canopy was one of the charms of Joplin, a shady reminder of the old-growth forest that was here before the discovery of the lead deep beneath their roots that led to the settling of the city. In the old neighborhood around Cunningham Park, the passage of time had worn the century-old homes but swelled the trees that shaded the streets, lending an upscale air to a modest neighborhood of blue-collar workers. Those still standing, too damaged to survive, will have to be cut down.
“That’s part of the tragedy, too,” said Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex. “Not only did we lose lives, home and businesses, but we lost our green spaces.”
Three government workers labored to fill a dump truck with freshly cut trees over the holiday weekend – clearing just a portion of a single city block would be an all-day affair. If fewer trees had fallen, they could be sent through a chipper, but now the only option is to haul them away.
Tina Anthony, 54, a cook at Olive Garden, watched from the pile of wood that used to shade her damaged home. “I know my roof can be replaced. But I lost an oak, a juniper and a catalpa tree, and there’s no replacing them,” Ms. Anthony said.
Nearby a chain saw paused as Cary Watkins, 40, owner of Cary’s Tree Service, took the time to count 135 rings on a large oak. Mr. Watkins urged the homeowner, like the hundred others he had helped the previous days, to plant again as soon as possible.
Related Resources:
New York Times- Once Stately Trees Tell a Tale of Destruction in Joplin
“Trees For Joplin” Aims to Re-plant the City
Forest ReLeaf of Missouri