DUQUESNE, Mo. — On May 22, 2011, a deadly tornado hit the Joplin area. Oftentimes overlooked, the city of Duquesne was also hit in its course and experienced sizable destruction. The small town of less than 2000 residents had to come together in a big way to recover.
The day of the disaster
Former Mayor Denny White recalls the day of tornado, saying the experience was the most responsibility he’s ever had. Ten years later, he still has nightmares about that fateful afternoon.
“About five o’clock, it started getting really windy and black. I was listening to the radio and we were in our basement and they said, ‘There’s a tornado at 13th and Rangeline headed east,'” said White.
The EF5 tornado struck through the middle of Duquesne — starting at 13th Street and moving southeast. The disaster killed 9 Duquesne residents and destroyed 250 homes and 55 businesses.
After the tornado hit, White left his home to take a look at the damage.
“I go out and I see terrible stuff everywhere I looked. There’s damage, cars wrapped around poles. As we were traveling down Main Street, we saw people walking down with blood running down their face and head injuries… It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Following the tornado
“We went to a FEMA meeting the day after the tornado and they didn’t know we existed in Duquesne,” White laughed. “So I stood up and said, ‘I’m the mayor of Duquesne, we’ve got just as much damage out through there — there’s a streak where it came right through.'”
Within two hours, FEMA showed up at Duquesne City Hall to offer assistance.
But even the restoration of the town caused more damage. White worked tirelessly to get state funding to resurface the city’s streets that were ruined by heavy equipment used in debris removal.
“He [the Governor] came down several times and every time he came down I said, ‘We really need some money for our roads.’ We wound up getting 2 million dollars to repair our roads,” said White.
About two years later, White was recognized in a council meeting with plaques from Sen. Ron Richards and Rep. Charlie Davis for his efforts.
But most of all, White thanks the volunteers who showed up for his city.
“The best thing that happened to us was the volunteers. We wondered how we were ever going to do this, it was a big deal,” he said. “We fed everybody, we had a grocery store, we had clothes to give to people. We took really good care of our people and the people around here are tough.”
Since the disaster, Duquesne has made substantial progress and is currently in a housing boom.
“We have about 140 new homes in one new neighborhood and many of the homes and businesses lost in the tornado have been rebuilt. New subdivisions are discussed regularly,” said member of Duquesne’s Memorial Park Committee Rick Gamboa.
“It’s going to increase Duquesne’s population probably by 500 people,” said White.
Some say that, now, the small city is even better than before.
“Duquesne is really on the move upward. They’re not sitting still, they’re moving forward like they should,” said White.
Duquesne’s upcoming City Park
To honor the victims of the tornado and maintain the community’s bond, the city of Duquesne is planning the construction of a city park on the land right next to Duquesne City Hall.
The City Park project has been underway for over a year and is currently in phases.
“We are getting ready to bid the first phase of the park which is grading of the property and installation of the sidewalk and purchasing picnic tables. Partial funding has been secured for park benches and public pavilion,” said Gamboa.
The city park is set to include a Commemorative Bell tower with a clock permanently set to 5:50pm — the time the tornado entered Duquesne. The tower will feature a plaque listing the Duquesne residents who lost their lives that day.
“The hope is that much of this can be completed in late fall of this year but we have no guarantees. We are working to gain grant funding and donations for the next phase which would include playground equipment, lighting, and trees.”
The plans for the park also include a pavilion, playground, eight-foot sidewalk, splashpad and more.
To stay up to date on what’s happening in Duquesne, visit the city’s Facebook page.