Russell Downs

Every new building that rises helps heal Joplin’s external wounds, Russell Downs knows.

But the paramedic, 36 and now a captain for the city’s Metro Emergency Transport System, said that far less obvious is the massive and unseen psychological trauma that is everywhere.

On the night of the storm, he parked his ambulance at 24th and Main streets, as more than 200 walking wounded staggered toward the rig for triage. He recalls one man lurching naked down the street, his clothes ripped off by the wind.

Others held their intestines in their hands.

“We still see people who are struggling,” Downs said. “The PTSD, the suicidal thoughts. I don’t think the public is really aware of it.”

Many in Joplin continue to have nightmares and flashbacks and find their nerves on edge when storm warnings sound. Said one employee who was at The Meadows nursing facility as it was destroyed: “I still hear the screams.”

Downs’ own change: “I value my family a lot more, because you just never know. Within seconds, minutes, hours, somebody’s life can change.

“My son is involved in travel baseball. I try to be at a lot of the games. My daughter is getting ready to graduate, I’m taking off.”

He probably would have done that even before the storm, he said, “but now I’m, ‘Hey, I gotta do this.’”

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