The Woodwards were safe from the path with Eichorn’s wife and children who were visiting. They waited for news from Eichorn as he hunkers in a closet while the storm tore through his home.
“He said the roof was gone and then the backside of the house was gone,” Woodward said. “Then the phone went dead.”
Larry’s wife, former UMHB director of marketing and public relations Carol Woodward went to Ozark Christian College – which was hit hard by the storm. She lives with her husband in Texas during the regular school year, but they enjoy summers in their other home close to family and friends in Joplin.
The tornado was classified as an EF5 – meaning it carried winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.
It cut through southwest Joplin, gaining strength as it tore through more densely populated areas.
Buildings were turned to rubble as the storm seemed to use the wreckage as fuel. Bits of goods or ruins of structure were all that could identify where the Walmart, Academy and even entire neighborhoods once stood.
“It was unrecognizable,” Larry Woodward said. “They had to use spray paint to identify where intersections were.”
Eichhorn is a local firefighter, and a long night of calls prevented him from coming to his aunt and uncle’s house like the rest of his family did that Sunday.
Eichhorn just wanted to sleep, but the storm wouldn’t allow it.
“We called Brad and tried to get him to come to our house. When he saw the sky, he decided to leave, but by that time the police where telling everyone to find cover immediately.”
Eichhorn found that cover in a closet under the stairs and had to wait and watch as his home was destroyed. As soon as possible, the Woodwards went to try and get to their nephew.
“We had to drive about a half mile away and walk through a field to get there because of the debris,” Larry Woodward said. “But we got to him.”
Eichhorn was incredibly lucky. He would only need some dental work for damage his teeth received when he was tossed by the storm.
Local Joplin KY3 News placed the death toll at 158. Carol’s brother-in-law’s uncle was one of those. Frank Eichhorn, a Vietnam vet, threw himself on a waitress as the storm hit. He was killed. She survived.
It was the deadliest tornado in 60 years.
Contrasting stories of loss and deliverance flowed from news reports the local conversation. Larry noticed a common theme in the good stories: angels.
“There was a church where everyone was in a main hallway. The entire church was destroyed except for the hallway,” he said. “And some of the kids and adults had seen these two giant guys holding up the walls.”
For Carol Woodward, the angels she saw every day were the volunteers who filled the town with support of labor, food and goods.
Johnson Hall Resident Director Gilda Traywick was one of those.
Traywick knew that she needed to help. Carol Woodward’s sister Robin Temple had been in Traywick’s Sunday school class at First Baptist Belton.
“I was just thinking, Oh my goodness! Robin is up there,” she said.
Traywick began gathering donations to take with her to on a trip to Joplin. She filled two pickup trucks with necessities to take with her.
Supplies and money were given out by local churches to those in need. Many of the most needy found themselves without the medical help they had relied on. Robin works at the major hospital in Joplin.
“The hospital was destroyed and everything was set up in tents,” Traywick said. “Think about Scott and White being completely destroyed and King’s Daughters taking patients, and the rest going everywhere else.”
Trying to clean and rebuild was a community effort, and everyone was quick to pitch in. The Woodwards began trying to salvage the night of the tornado. But the air was filthy and caused them to be sick.
“The very next day, there were like a thousand bulldozer on the streets. The very next day you could drive just about everywhere,” Larry Woodward said. “Everybody has a chainsaw, so within two days all the roads were clear and the trees were cut. It was a total mess, but you could get around.”
Traywick was glad to serve with such dedicated people. Those who worked in Joplin know the town will be rebuilt soon – even though Missouri insurance commissioner estimated the damage at $2 billion.
“I’ve been on mission trips where we worked while people watched. Here, we worked alongside with everyone,” Traywick said. “We were with them as they got on their feet.”