Ed and Sheri McAllister

The EF-5 tornado that eviscerated six miles of Joplin first touched ground near South Black Cat Road. On South Winfield Avenue, it began to rage.

“I can still see it, still see it. I can’t help it,” Ed McAllister, 55, said five years later as he recalled standing on his front porch at 2701 S. Winfield that day.

He shut his door and raced, plunging into his basement with his wife, Sheri, 52, and two of their three kids when the twister’s black wall was barely 150 feet away.

Cars spun and flipped along the ground and over houses, bending like tin cans. The entire neighborhood was blasted to rubble. McAllister, a dentist, said some of his patients were killed.

“I had one woman, she was a good friend. She and her baby both died,” he said.

He feels lucky that everyone in his family made it. His son Locke, now 19 and a freshman biology major at Missouri State University, had been in the house. So, too, had daughter Lydia, now 22 and graduating from the University of Missouri. Megan, 24, a teacher in Joplin soon to head to work in Kansas City, had been on the other side of town, away from the storm.

Five years on, the McAllisters said certain lessons last.

First, great homeowner’s insurance cushioned their blow. They rebuilt their home, from 3,900 square feet to nearly 4,500. Neighbors rebuilt, although a few neighbors did not, finding the ruined city too depressing. Ed McAllister’s practice at 15th Street and Range Line Road was obliterated, but he took out a loan and rebuilt closer to home. Still, the McAllisters have friends, uninsured or underinsured, who continue to try to piece their lives together.

“They struggle,” Ed McAllister said.

Second, material things don’t matter. Family matters. Faith matters. The greatest material loss to Sheri McAllister: her children’s baby books.

“I’d give a million dollars to get them back,” she said.

Third, in family there is strength.

“I think the lesson that the kids have learned is that you can’t give up,” Sheri McAllister said. “You can’t just fall apart.”

The family lived together for a year in a smaller rental house while their home was being rebuilt. Sheri McAllister doubted her fortitude to start everything over, until she did it. Ed McAllister thinks it knit the family closer together.

“It forced us into being a better family,” he said.

Sheri McAllister remembers going to the post office in the months after the storm. There were two lines: one for customers with regular mail and one for people picking up letters and packages addressed to homes that no longer existed.

“I’ll never forget,” she said. “I stood in line the whole time with other people. That’s when they said, ‘Oh no. You’re a victim. You need to stand over there.’

“I go, ‘Victim? I’m a survivor. I’m not a victim.’ I never heard anyone call it that before. That was an epiphany for me, like ‘I’m not a victim.’ It’s how you look at it. If you chose to be that person, ‘I’m a victim,’ that could have eaten you up inside.”

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