JOPLIN Missouri - Three weeks since the devastating tornado hit Joplin, Mo., a Parkersburg native who lives there is among the thousands picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and homes.
Carla Arnall, the former Carla Cunningham, and her husband Jason, are rebuilding their home destroyed in the storm that had the attention of the nation and the world.
Arnall, a 2002 graduate of the Parkersburg Christian School, moved to Joplin in 2004. She and her husband and children, Aldric and Dinah, were at home in Joplin on May 22 when the tornado hit. Since that time, they have been busy cleaning the site where their house stood, preparing to rebuild when they are able.
Jason and Carla Arnall stand outside the remains of their home following the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22. Carla, whose maiden name is Cunningham, is a former Parkersburg native who lives in Missouri with her husband and their two children. (Photo submitted)
''Things have been going good,'' Carla said. ''We have been working on salvaging what we can from the house.''
However, it is times like this that reminds them of the important things in life.
''We still have our children and each other,'' she said. ''That is what is really important. God kept us all safe.''
The storm killed 141 people and caused millions of dollars in damages. The Missouri legislature last week empaneled a committee to determine whether a special legislative session for the recovery.
May 22 started like any other day, Arnall said. They got up and went to church, came home, had lunch, baked and so on.
She was sitting in a recliner in the living room feeding Dinah when the first siren sounded.
''I looked out the front living room window and it looked like daylight then I looked at the back door and it looked like night time,'' she said.
She told her husband something was wrong. They turned on the TV and the newscasters had a live video feed on the tornado on the ground and they were yelling to take immediate cover and not to go outside.
''I got up and closed all the doors in the hallway and we all gathered there,'' Carla said. ''Jason was sitting with his back to the dining room shielding us with his body. He had his arms around us tightly.''
They could hear the roar of the tornado getting closer.
''We began to pray and thank the Lord for protection and the hedge that he was putting around us,'' Carla said. ''We prayed through the whole storm.''
They heard all the windows in their house pop and the wind became very strong and the family went from hearing it to feeling it.
''All of the sudden the house got cold,'' Carla said. ''At this time your body felt like it was trying to explode from the inside out. The amount of pressure was uncontainable. I felt debris hitting me on my arms.''
Aldric, 3, never cried or even got remotely upset during this time and six-month-old Dinah actually fell asleep during the storm, she said.
All of the sudden the pressure seemed to come to an end and they thought it was over.
Carla stayed in the hallway with the kids while Jason went out to check the damage. She saw holes in a couple of ceilings and a light fixture above them began filling with water.
''Jason came back and warned me several times that it was a lot worse that what we thought,'' she said. ''I got up and there was glass, insulation and debris everywhere.''
They we able to contact family and friends who sent help. People around their neighborhood were going from house to house to make sure everyone was ok and accounted for.
The family knew their roof had been blown off and the drywall was beginning to come down as it was raining.
They got the kids in their coats and went outside.
''We walked out the front door and the site was like nothing I've ever seen,'' Carla said. ''Everything for as far as I could see in every direction was demolished.''
A nearby structure caught on fire and at one point they saw a cow walking down the middle of their street.
''This struck me funny with the fact of how odd it looked,'' Carla said of the cow.
Friends came and helped the family leave the immediate area before it got dark as there were a number of powerlines down.
''As we were walking out I found myself stopping and trying to figure out what used to be there,'' Carla said. ''There were no structures that were recognizable.
''We walked past houses where nothing was left except the concrete slab they were built on.''
They saw scenes of death and destruction then they got to a point where everything was fine and there were no visible signs of damage.
They were met there by family and friends who took them to other family where they have been staying the last couple of weeks
They have returned to their house regularly, and with the help of their church family, friends and others have been going through everything to figure out what they are going to keep. People have brought chainsaws to help cut up debris and such.
Even two weeks later, Carla said the body is still somewhat in shock.
''I don't know if it ever completely leaves you,'' she said. ''It was over two weeks ago and it is still very real.''
In the days following the tornado, they had a lot of rain and storms. A lot of times, a sound or something can grip you in fear, Carla said.
Through it all, Carla said it is the people in the area and the people coming in from all over the country to lend a hand to help clean up.
''That has been a continual blessing,'' she said.
From people offering them popsicles and watermelon to offering some kind of assistance just to straighten things up, Carla said it helps put things into perspective in that a house can be rebuilt and the petty concerns people have don't amount to much in the face of this kind of disaster. Carla's family are just thankful they are all still together and well.
''We are very thankful to be alive,'' she said.
The town has begun to recover with construction starting on some needed businesses while people themselves have begun to rebuild.
''Every time you see one more person building, it gives you hope,'' Carla said. ''We are going to rebuild in the same spot. We are looking forward to getting started.''