May 30th, 2011

Orphans of the storm

The devastating tornado in Joplin was especially devastating for a number of children who have been orphaned by it.

The term “orphan” seems almost like an anachronism, something that was far more common in the past. And yet children are still orphaned, and when it happens it’s one of the most dreadful experiences a child can have:

“The trauma is deep. The wound is deep. Being orphaned is what we call a forever loss,” Dr. Jane Aronson, Chief Executive of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, said on Friday.

In the case of the Joplin orphans, relatives and others have stepped up to try as best they can to carry on for the parents who have died. Two who are described in the article are a 21-year-old sister who has taken on her younger siblings as her responsibility, and an ex-husband who is not the father of the surviving child but who is caring for him anyway.

It will be quite a task, although not an impossible one. Here’s the child, five-year old Garrett LeClere, speaking:

“I feel sorry for my parents,” he said. “They wasted their lives saving me.”

There was room enough in the family bathtub for only Garrett and his sister to weather the storm in Phil Campbell. The boy remembers the tub spinning and being lifted before he landed hard 200 yards from his leveled home.

“I heard myself scream really loud. The hurt was really painful,” he said.

I believe that no such sacrifices are wasted. And I hope Garrett will grow up to feel that way about his parents, too.

8 Responses to “Orphans of the storm”

  1. Sergey Says:

    Why they did not build storm shelters in Joplin and other towns, visited by destructive tornadoes every year? This would have prevented such terrible tragedies. Isn’t it obvious that whole families can not fit themselves into a single bath tube? I seen aerial foto of the destroyed town, and not a single house had a basement! It does not take much money and effort to make an improvised storm shelter. We were told how to do them at school, in early 69-s, and they were supposed to endure shock waves from nuclear blasts!

  2. Gringo Says:

    Sergey

    Why they did not build storm shelters in Joplin and other towns, visited by destructive tornadoes every year? This would have prevented such terrible tragedies.

    I can’t speak for Misssourah, but in rural Oklahoma, a lot of houses have storm cellars for tornadoes. Storm cellars are also warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

  3. csimon Says:

    “I believe that no such sacrifices are wasted. And I hope Garrett will grow up to feel that way about his parents, too.”

    Amen!

    I can’t imagine what Garrett feels right now — and how his life has bee turned upside down. (no pun intended) Generally, the things that a child knows in life are (hopefully) the love and security of his parents, his room, his home, some favorite things. And those are all gone. Probably most familiar faces, too. And all the stuff going on “over his head” — the news cameras, the many articles, however many caring strangers trying to comfort him, make him feel better, or even the brouhaha of our Imperial President’s appearance and big speech — don’t can’t do anything for Garrett at the moment.

    The five years of Garrett’s life thus far are his eternity. In another five, they’ll seem like much less, and tho’ the pain he is now experiencing will never disappear, it will dull and and ultimately, in the perspective time, this time will become a brief, albeit a life-changing moment in his life

    I hope Garrett comes to realize, a long time before “grown-up” comes, is just how much love it took for his parents to do what they did to make sure he was safe, before ever thinking about themselves.

    As he is about to begin an entirely new life, I hope at some point he will be able to grasp the concept that he exists because of the great love of his parents, and he survived as a result of that same love. I hope he never feels that he was abandoned (as is sometimes the result of a child’s logic) and that he learns to value his life and his future as much as his parents did

  4. csimon Says:

    Sergey —

    Disaster after disaster — whether it be tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides — I am forever puzzled that ONE ot the things a “big govt.” CAN DO, but often fails to, is implement more stringent code results for potential disaster zones. Katrina was the result of “the perfect storm” combined with govt. safeguards (i.e. the levees) that happened to fail. That can always happen. But when one sees literal brick and mortar buildings decimated like they were houses of straw over and over again throughout large swathes of the country, there is something very wrong.

    I grew up in Miami, and when I was young, we had almost a hurricane a year, regularly more than that. Almost always, biggest loss of life is always among those residents who live in trailers. This occurs across regions and regardless of the type of natural disaster. I understand that the reason many people dwell in trailers is economic, but with all the technological advances, it continually amazes me that there are not stronger means of anchoring such homes, or the development of sturdier materials and construction. The REAL danger comes when there are natural disasters that happen less regularly and there are long absences between. Development and expansion continues unabated, but attention to how they are built, and if they are done so with state of the art technology and materials often falls between big cracks.

    For instance those of us who grew up on Miami Beach, directly on the coast of the Atlantic, have watched for decades now, as developers paid off city councils to change zoning rules, and built all-glass facade skyscrapers all along the coastline. There has not been a hurricane in dozens of years on the ‘Beach. (The most memorable and probably most destructive one in modern times — Hurricane Andrew — did not hit Miami Beach. But there is one coming, and when the right one does, there will undoubtedly be immeasureable distruction. No one can guess what the winds and the air pressures from a major hurricane will do to all those homes in the sky, and the people in them, let alone what harm will be done to surrounding ground communities hit by the debris which will literally become missiles.

    Unfortunately we have to put such

    What I do know is that a govt. that invested in such protections more than in commissions that study a special kind of toad, or decide what we are allowed to eat in a restaurant (salt? transfats) or continuing to allow tobacco to be a legal substance while telling consumers where they can use it in both private and public space, would be a govt. that used its limited resources more wisely. And dumping unlimited financial resources after the fact, will always be by far a more costly resolution.

    But then, I do understand politicans who don’t seem to know either the meaning of limited resources, or that emergency spending is for ….emergences! Instead most will happily and guiltlessly spend, if for no oher reason than because it does not come from their own pockets.

    I realize it is somewhat easy to be critical when we see disasters of such proportion and the resultant resounding effects that reverberate throughout families and communities. We all feel accutely at the moment of impact, then shift our focus as other issues become more timely. Perhaps it is partly to do with the type of system we have which allows us to elect representatives on a regular basis and the political swings that result. The cracks seem to grow when ideological philosophies and financial priorities change until the next swing brings us back to the same place. I don’t know what the answer is or if it is even possible for such a large number of people to agree on a resolution for a long enough period of time to come up with a safe solution. Come to think of it, this applies to any number of issues from protection against natural disasters to what protection we need from terrorists to the questionable need to build regional bullet trains or what union demands local, state, or federal govt. should support.
    Maybe that is the price we pay for the system of govt. we maintain. I have to admit I don’t often think about this, probably like many others, except in the most painful times following the most severe impact of disasters.

  5. Mr. Frank Says:

    I heard a discussion about the advice that has been given for tornadoes for years. It has always been go to the basement if you have one. Otherwise, go to a central room with no windows like a closet or bathroom. Now it appears that these super F5 tornadoes will wipe a slab clean. Thought is being given to evacuations for some people. That brings a whole new problem of grid lock on the highway.

    In some areas of the Deep South the water table makes basements difficult, but usually it is just cost which can be substantial. The same problem drives mobile home purchases. Some rural people have access to cheap land or family land which makes a mobile home very attractive. For poor people the alternative is inner city living with high crime.

  6. A Reader from K.C. Says:

    I think the majority of homes in the Joplin area built since about 1950 did have basements. I know this is true in the Kansas City area. Back yard cellars are common at older homes.

    It was an unusually violent tornado, and people in its path were killed no matter what precautions they took. Witness the pictures of commercial buildings being blown down. A bank building was completely blown away– nothing left but the vault on a slab of concrete.

    The odds of you taking a direct hit from a tornado are really pretty low. Seems like I read somewhere that even in “tornado alley” one blows through right where you happen to be standing only about once every 1,000 years. It’s not economically feasible to build houses so tough they’d withstand a Joplin monster.

  7. Sergey Says:

    After major disaster building codes are usually revised. Compare number of victims in major earthquakes in California before and after rules of seismic-proof building were introduced. The same for Japan, where no building in Tokio was seriously damaged after 9.1 magnitude March earthquake.
    Of course, making tornado-proof houses is economically impossible. But to dig 6 feet by 6 feet, 6 feet deep hole in the backyard is not costly. With all soil digged from it piled above it would provide sufficient protection in most of the cases. When as a little boy I read “Wizard of Oz”, beginning with a story how a girl was swept away by a whirlwind with her house in Kansas, I thought that this was an usual fairy-tale exagerration. But seeng tornadoes on TV I at last understood how destructive they can be. Nevertheless, even simplest underground shelters are highly effective. Buildings explode when they are on tornado path because pressure drop around them makes air within expand and blew them apart. This will never happen with underground shelters.

  8. JBalconi Says:

    Anyone know what the water table is like in Joplin? I used to assume that everyone could have a basement until I moved to my current location, where no one has them unless the house is built into the side of a hill (and then it’s the walk-in sort). My crawlspace would probably be a death-trap, what with the pipes and all. Unfortunately, the nearest public shelter (an old fallout shelter) is a few miles from home and was built when the town numbered some 2,000 people.

    I grew up in a tornado alley, so I’ve hid out in various places. Storm cellars are really the worst. You usually have to go outside to enter, as the inner entry point is most often near a window and involves opening a trapdoor to reach the stairs. Irony of ironies, my best friend from high school went into her storm cellar during a tornado watch and discovered the heavy rains of the last few weeks flooded it!

    And did any of you see the account by Dr. Kevin Kikta, who was working in St. John’s Regional in Joplin? I can’t seem to find the link, but it’s worth reading.

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