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Joplin Tornado Anniversary Commemorated By Recovering Missouri City

By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER 05/22/12 12:39 PM ET AP

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Malachi Murdock doesn't remember the massive tornado that struck Joplin a year ago Tuesday, killing 161 people and nearly killing him.

The 17-year-old was on stage after a performance at the Stained Glass Theater when the twister shredded the building. Three of those inside were killed. Murdock was hit in the jaw by debris and injured so badly his parents initially didn't recognize him at a hospital hours later.

Murdock, now a college freshman, plans to dedicate his life to helping others as a counselor and youth minister — a decision borne from the suffering he saw in the aftermath of the May 22, 2011, tornado. He and Gov. Jay Nixon were among those at a sunrise service Tuesday at Freeman Hospital to honor the hospital and emergency workers who sprang into action that night — the first in a day of solemn events to mark the anniversary of the tragedy and the city's rebirth.

"I've been blessed with a loss of memory of this event," he said. "If I remembered, I'd probably be going through the same trauma a lot of these people are."

Freeman was overrun with Joplin's bloodied and battered that night because the city's other hospital, St. John's Regional Medical Center, was destroyed — one of thousands of Joplin buildings damaged or laid to ruin that night. St. John's has been operating out of temporary facilities while construction continues at its new permanent location, where it will reopen under the name Mercy Hospital Joplin.

The city held the first of three groundbreaking ceremonies Tuesday for new schools at a site in the shadow of St. John's former home on land donated by the Sisters of Mercy Health System. An elementary school will be built at the site to replace two that were destroyed. The community theater will be rebuilt nearby.

"It's been a roller-coaster type year. Extremely high highs and lots of low lows." said Debbie Fort, the principal of Erving Elementary School, which has been operating out of temporary facilities and which will be the name of the new school.

"It's important that we take a moment to reflect and remember," she said. "But it's a new chapter in our lives. This really signifies our future, the future of Joplin."

A groundbreaking ceremony was planned for later Tuesday for Joplin High School, which was also destroyed by the nation's deadliest tornado in six decades.

A 4-mile unity walk through some of the city's hardest hit neighborhoods begins at 2 p.m. in neighboring Duquesne, where more than one-fourth of the community's 750 homes were destroyed and nine people died. The Joplin portion of the walk begins past a Wal-Mart where 200 people survived the storm by huddling together in employee break rooms, bathrooms and other designated safe zones. Three people, though, were killed inside that store.

The walk will conclude with a moment of silence at Cunningham Park at 5:41 p.m., the precise time when the EF-5 tornado packing 200 mph winds hit Joplin. The city park, which is across the street from the hulking remains of the St. John's hospital, has since been rebuilt.

While many of Tuesday's events will reflect upon the past year, community leaders are also looking ahead toward what is bound to be a long recovery effort.

In January, elected officials and other members of a 45-person recovery committee endorsed a long-term recovery plan that calls for the creation of four new business districts that would allow residents to live and shop nearby and a unified approach to rebuilding that ensures new construction meets certain design standards.

In March, the city hired Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, of Sugar Land, Texas, as its "master developer" to oversee the rebuilding plan.

The day's events are also expected to attract some of the more than 130,000 volunteers who descended on southwest Missouri from across the country to help out. That group includes a contingent of bicyclists who left New York City's Central Park nearly three weeks ago on a Cycle for Joplin fundraising ride organized by a group of former Joplin residents known as the Joplin Expats.

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Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier

Gov. Jay Nixon, who joined President Barack Obama on Monday night as a Joplin High School graduation speaker, plans to attend a sunrise service and "journey of healing" at Freeman Hospital honoring the city's medical workers and volunteers who have aided the recovery. The hospital has seen a surge in use after the tornado destroyed St. John's Regional Medical Center, which has since occupied a succession of temporary facilities but is being rebuilt at a new location – and renamed as Mercy Hospital Joplin.

A 4-mile unity walk through some of the city's hardest hit neighborhoods begins at 2 p.m. in neighboring Duquesne, where more than one-fourth of the community's 750 homes were destroyed and nine people died. The Joplin portion of the walk begins past a Wal-Mart where 200 people survived the storm by huddling together in employee break rooms, bathrooms and other designated safe zones. Three people, though, were killed inside that store.

The walk will conclude with a moment of silence at Cunningham Park at 5:41 p.m., the precise time when the EF-5 tornado packing 200 mph winds hit Joplin. The city park, which is across the street from the hulking remains of the St. John's hospital, has since been rebuilt.

While many of Tuesday's events will reflect upon the past year, community leaders are also looking ahead toward what is bound to be a long recovery effort.

In January, elected officials and other members of a 45-person recovery committee endorsed a long-term recovery plan that calls for the creation of four new business districts that would allow residents to live and shop nearby and a unified approach to rebuilding that ensures new construction meets certain design standards.

In March, the city hired Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, of Sugar Land, Texas, as its "master developer" to oversee the rebuilding plan.

The day's events are also expected to attract some of the more than 130,000 volunteers who descended on southwest Missouri from across the country to help out. That group includes a contingent of bicyclists who left New York City's Central Park nearly three weeks ago on a Cycle for Joplin fundraising ride organized by a group of former Joplin residents known as the Joplin Expats.

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  • The Aftermath...

    In this May 22, 2011, file photo residents walk in the street after a massive tornado hit Joplin, Mo. The National Weather Service is kicking off an experiment starting April 2, 2012 with a new kind of tornado warning that's aimed to scare people into seeking shelter.(AP Photo/Mike Gullett, File)

  • In this May 23, 2011 file photo, a mangled street sign stands among tornado debris in Joplin, Mo. City infrastructure including manhole covers and fire hydrants are among the $500 million in taxpayer assistance provided after an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin nearly a year ago,becoming the costliest tornado on record. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

  • This May 24, 2011 photo shows extensive tornado destruction in Joplin, Mo., with the damaged St. John's Regional Medical Center hospital building at foreground center, after the powerful May 22, 2011 storm. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • In this May 24, 2011 file photo, the path of a powerful tornado is seen in Joplin, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 29, 2011: U.S. President Barack Obama and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon walk together during a visit to the community that was devastated a week ago by a tornado on May 29, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The tornado, which was packing winds of more than 200 mph, is now considered to hold the record for the highest death toll in U.S. history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • In this May 30, 2011, file photo damage is seen in a devastated Joplin, Mo. neighborhood. A federal agency was set to release a report Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, detailing communication efforts ahead of the massive twister that hit Joplin, killing more than 160 people. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

  • JOPLIN, MO- JUNE 18: Members of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, of Independence, Kansas, attempt to lift a toppled wall while clearing the remains of a home on June 18, 2011, in Joplin, Missouri. More than 28,000 volunteers have made their way to Joplin to help clear debris in the weeks following an EF5 tornado that leveled parts of the city. (Photo by Julie Denesha/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - JUNE 18: Volunteer Andrew Wallace of Fayetteville, Arkansas stacks books salvaged from the remains of a home on June 18, 2011, in Joplin, Missouri. More than 28,000 volunteers have made their way to Joplin to help clear debris in the weeks following an EF5 tornado that leveled parts of the city. (Photo by Julie Denesha/Getty Images)

  • In this July 21, 2011 file photo, a worker walks among a pile of debris at a landfill in Galena, Kan., where some of the 2 million cubic yards of tornado debris have been hauled from nearby Joplin, Mo. Debris cleanup accounted for about one-fifth of the $500 million in tax dollars spent after an EF-5 tornado destroyed a large swath of Joplin last year. The tornado that tore through Joplin a year ago and already ranks as the deadliest twister in six decades, now is considered the costliest since at least 1950. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

  • JOPLIN, MO - JULY 29: Workers clear debris from a home destroyed by the May 22 tornado July 29, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The city continues with its recovery efforts following the tornado which killed 160 people, destroyed 7,500 homes and as many as 500 businesses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - JULY 29: Vacant lots remain where a neighborhood once stood prior to the May 22 tornado July 29, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The city continues with its recovery efforts following the tornado which killed 160 people, destroyed 7,500 homes and as many as 500 businesses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - JULY 29: Carl Morgan of C.K. Construction helps to rebuild a home destroyed by the May 22 tornado July 29, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The city continues with its recovery efforts following the tornado which killed 160 people, destroyed 7,500 homes and as many as 500 businesses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • Nearly Eight Months Later...

    Nearly eight months after an EF-5 tornado left 160 people dead, the damaged and abandoned St. John's Regional Medical center is seen between two houses being rebuilt Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in Joplin, Mo. The city has issued nearly 4,000 building permits to homeowners since the tornado hit on May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, artwork stands in a park, which has been rebuilt after it was destroyed nearly eight months ago by an EF-5 tornado that tore through in Joplin, Mo. The city has issued nearly 4,000 building permits to homeowners since the tornado hit on May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. hammers a nail as he helps build a Habitat for Humanity home Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. Ripken's visit to southwest Missouri is the first stop in a 13-city tour of Habitat volunteer projects. The trip is sponsored by Energizer Holdings Inc., a St. Louis-based battery manufacturer. (AP Photo/The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown)

  • In this photo taken Tuesday, May 8, 2012, the ruins of the former St. John's Regional Medical center stands in Joplin, Mo. Destroyed by an EF-5 tornado nearly a year ago, the hospital is in its third temporary facility while construction continues on a new replacement a couple miles to the south. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • In this photo taken Tuesday, May 8, 2012, a new home rises among ruins of others in a Joplin, Mo., neighborhood which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado nearly a year ago. Reconstruction continues in the community as the anniversary of the costliest tornado on record approaches on May, 22. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, left, and Kansas City Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur pose for photographs during a news conference at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, May 9, 2012. Major League Baseball and a charitable foundation for players are working with Habitat for Humanity to build nine homes for the tornado-ravaged cities of Joplin and Tuscaloosa, Ala. About half the funding will come from State Farm, the insurance company. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

  • One Year Later...

    JOPLIN, MO - MAY 19: Codessa Schoonover spends time remembering her grandmother as she sits on what remains of the tree in front of the home her grandmother was killed in when a tornado hit the home almost one year ago on May 19, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 19: A home is seen under construction as the town rebuilds from the catastrophic tornado that hit almost one year ago on May 19, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 19: The foundations of homes are all that remain after the debris has been cleared from the catastrophic tornado that hit almost one year ago on May 19, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 20: Construction workers put together what will eventually be an apartment building that is replacing one that was destroyed when a tornado hit almost one year ago on May 20, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 21: A sign reads, 'Always 5-22-11 Remember'' a day before the one year anniversary of the massive tornado that hit the town on May 21, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • JOPLIN, MO - MAY 21: Jeremy Nelson (C) with the help of construction workers rebuilds his home after it was destroyed when a tornado hit almost one year ago on May 21, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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