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May 27, 2011

Joplin on My Mind

Roy Meachum

The worst single tornado in recorded history struck Missouri at the beginning of the week. Joplin was next-door to Camp Crowder, where I spent another spring.


Remembered for freezing winds in February, we were finishing an Army basic training cycle in May, in summertime khakis. Joplin exists in my memory as a place to see off-base movies, like “Meet Me in St. Louis;” Judy Garland sang “The Trolley Song.” The best weekend in my young life passed in the town’s Connor Hotel, sleeping in a room all by myself. (The Connor vanished nearly 40 years ago, done-in by handier motels and a destructive charge.)


The tornado took the lives of more than 122 human residents, not counting dogs and cats that the winds swept away into nearby states. Property damage was enormous; officials estimate more than a third of the town, including its fully loaded hospital complex. Somewhere around 1,500 human beings turned up missing.


Another whirlwind landed Monday, hitting El Reno, Oklahoma, not far from Chickasha, where my father was born; it careened through Kansas while its casualties extended into Arkansas, which I wrote about last week, recalling the Mississippi River great flood, in 1937. Then there was Hurricane Karina that tore up New Orleans in late summer, nearly six years ago.


But enlistment in the Army removed me from my native South, the disasters didn’t. At the time I was growing up on the edge of the Garden District, the unlikeliest phenomenon that intruded directly in my life was the magical snow that appeared in the first grade. After all, as my column said last week, the 1937 flood reached miles east of Wynne, where my grandparents lived.


Nature’s recent goings-on are totally beyond my experience. When I visited my long-time school five months after Katrina, my old car rode among St. Bernard Parish houses that displayed tic-tac-dough crosses, marking the number of former occupants and the ghastly count of those pulled out dead. After this week’s tornadoes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency instituted the grisly system in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. For all I know, FEMA started it before the hurricane that forced Holy Cross to move after more than 100 years behind a levee.


My best-friend states flatly he has no truck with the global warning theory; I tend in the other direction. I simply cannot bring myself to believe the higher coastal waters and melting icebergs happen because of an historical cycle. Yes, I know very well that Victorian England was frigid, and at the time dinosaurs roamed America they lived in tropical paradise of swamps and savannahs.


Still, attention must be paid to the growing cohorts of scientists who teach that man-made machines burning present-day fuels are burning up the world’s atmosphere. There’s no danger the heavens will fall down tomorrow. I will be long dead when it happens and my last requiem but a memory. I firmly believe the collapse will take place in my great-grandchildren’s era.


Present-day disasters must be taken as warnings of the Great Disaster. The forecast of men, women and children forced to spend their entire lives in “bubble” cities is not entirely science fiction.


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