The sun was out. There were graduation parties, church services, and families doing their Sunday shopping. Who could have expected that one spring day would change an entire city.
“We got down in the hallway because we didn’t have time to do anything else. It came up that quick,” said Elaine and Tom Shoptaw.
Joplin was hit by a destructive and deadly EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011.
“It just felt like somebody was on top of our house with a big sledgehammer, trying to beat it down,” said Shoptaw.
On the outer rings of the tornado’s path, the Shoptaws took cover from the forceful, horizontal winds threatening to take their house.
“After it went by, you could hear the house sitting back down. You could hear the rafters lowering themselves back down on the house,” Shoptaw explained.
The aftermath was catastrophic. The city saw nearly $3 billion worth of damages. Houses were lost, buildings destroyed, but it didn’t take long for Joplin to get to work rebuilding.
“We really tried to examine the structures that went and what we saw were the garage doors went right away. And the roofs were blowing off right away, even the homes on the outer areas,” said Crystal Harrington, Home Builders Executive Officer.
Not long after the tornado, the Joplin City Council got together to discuss changes in residential building codes. Home Builders Association leaders made sure to be there after hearing some of the initial ideas. Storm shelters and basements in every home. A safe plan, but an expensive one. Instead, the HBA recommended that the building code require every home to have hurricane clips. These are steel plates that connect the roof and wall, which helps protect a house against strong winds.
“Instead of digging a basement, we were now using hurricane clips, which would increase the cost of a home by a hundred dollars or so,” said Harrington.
They also wanted an affordable way to increase the sturdiness of a homes foundation.
“We were able to increase the amount of concrete put into a block foundation by as much as half again, and that made a much more secure foundation and much less likely to have an issue,” Harrington explained.
These requirements were added to the new building code that was finally adopted in Joplin in November 2015.
“We are building homes differently, partially because we look at what happened in the tornado. We try to accommodate changes that would have, if not prevented the destruction, have decreased the destruction,” said Harrington.
Changes that have been added to the Shoptaws new house. Thanks to Rebuild Joplin they can now sleep at night knowing that hurricane clips, reinforced walls, and reinforced floors will help keep them safe.
“It turned out nice. Very secure, you know, it’s a home. It’s not a house anymore. It’s a home,” said Shoptaw.
To make sure everyone in Joplin feels at home and safe, the HBA, city officials, the building department and other professionals are in constant contact about changes that should be made to the residential building code. These codes are generally updated every four years, but through that constant contact, there are plenty of times rules are added in between that timeframe. All these professionals will continue to monitor the code and look for ways to increase safety and efficiency so that community members are taken care of in the best way possible.