Eight Feet Under

Eight Feet Under

Earlene Ivy shares her story of how she and her dog was rescued from being trapped under 8 feet of rubble. 


Sunday, May 22, 2011, started out like most Sundays for me.  I attended Sunday school and morning Worship services at South Joplin Christian Church.   I came home, 3 blocks west of the high school, and picked up a dish to take to a dinner at Carl Junction about ten miles north of Joplin.

After the meeting, I took two ladies who were with me to their homes before stopping at the Wal-Mart store to buy some coffee filters. I did not turn on the car radio.

When I got home, I parked my car in the garage and came into the utility room and went through the kitchen to the den. I put my purse on a chair in the den and turned on the TV for the evening news. Then I went back into the kitchen to put the coffee filters away.

I heard the TV announcer say, “TAKE COVER NOW THIS IS REAL.”

I went to the den and looked out. It was so black I couldn’t see the end of the driveway.

I picked up my purse, snapped my dog’s leash on her harness, and we went to the front bathroom and sat down on the floor. Just as I sat down, the storm started. I was thrown back and forth and finally put the dog, a 14 pound Min-Pin, in my arms and stretched out flat on the floor.

Just as I stretched out on the floor the vanity, with two sinks, on the north side of the room crashed toward the south, followed by the shower wall and bathtub, which crashed toward the north, making a tee-pee where my head was.  The dog was still in my arms. I could breathe but there was a lot of fiberglass insulation and other debris that I inhaled. There was no way to turn over or move very far.

When the wind quit blowing I started calling out but I couldn’t hear any answer. Finally I heard my next door neighbor say, “Give me your hand.” I couldn’t give him my hand because I couldn’t put the dog down. Finally he took the dog and my purse and held my hand until I was able to get out.

People laugh about women’s purses, but I lived out of mine for quite a while. It had my driver’s license, credit cards, insurance cards, cell phone, address book, check book, and my passport. I was taking the passport to the bank, but the bank was blown away. If I had to replace it, it would be time consuming and expensive.

My next door neighbors lost their house but were able to get to their yard when it was over. They saw my car and knew that I was home, but buried under the remains of my house. They started digging with their hands when a man came by and asked if they needed help. They said the three of them dug me out from under eight feet of debris.

After the wind stopped blowing, I felt rain. I thought the storm had taken off my roof. When I got out I saw that my entire neighborhood was gone. The first thing I saw was a large walnut tree in the front yard. I had had it topped that spring because it was so tall. After it was topped it was almost 60 feet tall. It was now about 20 feet tall and all the leaves and bark were gone.

The neighbors, their dog, my dog and I, made our way to the Southside Baptist Church, about two blocks north. There were live electric lines and wood and trees and other debris on the ground. Someone had a flashlight and we got to the church. The church was gone but the basement was intact and there were some chairs in what had been a Sunday school room. I sat there until my brother and his wife made their way in and found me.

They had to come in from south of town. The closest they could park was four blocks from my house and six blocks from the church where I was.

The sub-station near their house was out so they had no electricity, (which in the country meant no water) so we spent the night in a motel in Neosho, about 15 miles south of Joplin.

I was a little battered and bruised and spent the next 10 days in bed at my friend’s house in Carl Junction. She and her sister took me to the doctor in Sarcoxie and to the hospital in Carthage for tests. I had inhaled quite a bit of debris and had stuff on my lungs, but compared to a lot of other people I was in good shape.

When I was able to get out I was amazed at the extent of destruction and the sheer numbers of volunteers in Joplin. On every corner it seemed there was a tent with people offering food and water. Church groups cooked meals and people walked out to the curb to offer them.

The area Masonic Lodges cooked and furnished over 35,000 meals. There were semi- trucks full of bottled water. There was so much water that some of it couldn’t be used.  Water in plastic bottles inside of truck trailers in 100+degree weather doesn’t keep too well.

After the storm there was heavy rain for two days, then a lot of 100+ degree weather that made conditions pretty uncomfortable for quite a while.

I would advise anyone who wants to respond to a disaster to send money or gift cards so people can buy what is needed. There were truckloads of clothing and truckloads of water that went to waste because people didn’t have a place to put them.

After the FEMA trailers came in then people could use things, but at first there were only shelters in churches and MSSU.

I heard that Memorial Hall had been turned into a type of Emergency Room/Triage, hospital. St. John’s wasn’t usable and Freeman was overwhelmed. I heard they saw over 1000 patients immediately following the storm.

When I was able to get out I found a place to rent in a little town about 20 miles from here. It wasn’t much, but I had a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, for only $1,000.00 a month, plus $200.00, non- refundable, for the privilege of having my dog with me. No price gouging there! Most people weren’t like that, but there were a few.

After six weeks I got lucky and found a house to buy. In 106 degree weather it was great to have an air conditioner that worked!

One of the hardest things to get used to was that there were no landmarks. Street signs had been destroyed and buildings that had always been there were gone. People who had lived here all their lives didn’t know where they were or how to get to where they wanted to go.

After dark from 15thand Main Street to 32nd and Main Street there were no street lights, no neon lights, nothing but blank darkness on both sides of Main Street for blocks. I don’t know how long it was before there were lights again, but I know that Empire District Electric worked 24 hours a day for a long time.

The City of Joplin did a remarkable job of directing the clean-up. For 60 days no building permits were issued so that debris removal could happen before contractor’s vehicles started using the streets.

Over 3,000,000 cubic yards of debris was removed. Huge black diesel trucks with 2 black trailers, each about half the size of a railroad car were in constant movement on 20th and 26th Streets on the way to the landfill with loads or coming back for more.

The bank I used was destroyed but the vault was intact. It was several weeks before it could be opened. Someone had to come and drill out the lock and open the vault, then all the deposit boxes had to be drilled out. We were able to get the contents at the main bank some time later.

The Post Office did a great job of taking care of the mail. The main post office hadn’t been hit but there was no power at the one at 32nd and Main. As I remember, we registered at the main post office alphabetically and were given a number. When the number was called the mail was bundled and passed out. It went very smoothly.

There were so many acts of kindness and offers of help that it is hard to remember names and events.

In my opinion, Joplin, as we knew it, will never be the same, but I think the same spirit that caused our forefathers to go underground and make Joplin known as “The town that got the lead out” will prevail.

I would like to see one more public ceremony. I would like to see Cunningham Park renamed “Cunningham Memorial Park” dedicated to victims, survivors, and volunteers of the Joplin tornado then I would like to see things return to the new normal and let people get on with their lives.