Late in the afternoon on May 22nd, 2011 a devastating EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck Joplin, Missouri. The one-mile wide cyclone created wind gusts of up to 250mph. Thousands of homes were completely destroyed and 158 people lost their lives. It turned out to be the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 1947.

3 weeks after the tornado hit I was headed on a road trip across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles. One of the main routes westward on I-40 weaves through the Midwest and right past Joplin. I’d seen horrifying footage on the news of the tornado aftermath but once highway exits for Joplin started popping up, I decided that I had to see it myself. No television clip or image can do justice to what I saw when we exited the highway and drove towards Joplin. At first it was your typical American small town, storefronts and strip malls….not many signs of destruction. Once we passed a certain point though virtually every building as far as I could see had been completely leveled. Cars were flipped over, roofs collapsed, personal belongings scattered everywhere, total devastation. In fact after seeing all of this it made me feel a little guilty for ever staging any of my photographs to look “post-apocalyptic”.

Below is a series of images I captured in Joplin on June 11th and July 28th, 2011. I stopped there again on my way back from California to see how much progress had been made. I’d say about 50% of the houses had now been cleared of debris and leveled to their foundations, but the town is still in a complete state of disarray and there is LOTS of work to be done.

Please consider donating to one of the Joplin relief funds if you have any extra money to spare, they still need help!

I also recommend reading the first hand account of ER Physician Kevin Kikta who was working in the Joplin Hospital when it was hit by the tornado.
Read it HERE.

There’s some really intense footage from storm chaser Jeff Piotraski of the Joplin tornado as it happened.

First person audio from inside a gas station hit by the tornado in Joplin.
Listen to it HERE.