Thousands of people take to the streets of Duquesne and Joplin, a part of Joplin's journey that began when the two communities took a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011. That tornado killed 161 people, leveled thousands of homes and destroyed hundreds of businesses.
The journey will continue for many years. But today, in a Walk of Unity, victims, volunteers and those who support them walked the route of the tornado.
City officials encouraged people to line the roads. Bubbles were blowing in the wind along with some kites.
The walk started in Duquesne, a small community that's had to deal with the very big problem of cleaning up. Residents from Duquesne started the walk a littler earlier than the rest. The first group left from the city's new roundabout and walked an extra mile, symbolizing the town's efforts since last May.
Participants then joined together and walked to the 15th street Walmart for the official beginning of the Joplin leg of the walk.
The first stop recognized the recovery of the city's faith, with a steeple-raising at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 22nd Street and Indiana. The church was one of many destroyed by the tornado.
The group then traveled to the site of the new Joplin High School for a groundbreaking. Thousands of Unity walkers tunneled through a line of buses to witness the groundbreaking.
The Joplin High School will be combined with Franklin Technology Center and is expected to be complete in 2014.
Then it was time for a break at what will be the new Irving School, where a groundbreaking was held earlier in the day. The school will sit just south of the old Saint John's Hospital. At this morning's groundbreaking a combined Irving-Emerson choir sang. The school will house 600 students from both schools. The school could reopen as soon as Fall 2013.
After the stop at Irving, the walk recognized the struggle of Joplin's business community with a ribbon cutting at Kraft Insurance Agency at 26th and Bird Street.
Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce says this business is part of the 85% of businesses that have reopened. Kraft Insurance Agency took care of policies of about 1,000 small businesses in Joplin and say they are glad to have a new home.
Volunteers from Convoy of Hope set up a hydration station on 26th Street as a part of the Walk of Unity. The Convoy of Hope is one of the many organizations that have provided aid in Joplin since the tornado. The group has also started building 12 homes and has already turned over the keys to one Joplin family.
"Hope - I mean it's the name of our organization, but it's also the name of the way we live, the way we look at life," says Jeff Nene of Convoy of Hope. "If people don't have hope they start to die. But if you can give them hope, then they can make it to the next day and then the next day and then the next day."
The walk continued to Cunningham Park, where the Day of Unity program and moment of silence was held.
Extreme Home makeover crews were in Joplin in October to build 7 homes in 7 days, but they also helped the community rebuild Cunningham Park. The finished project is a basketball court, a jungle gym, a playground that includes Joplin storefronts and hospital and road signs of areas hit by the tornado, and a memorial wall filled with signatures of volunteers and residents involved in the project.
For the most part spirits have been high today. Thousands of people from the Four State community, as well as from across the country, joined together in support of Joplin.
There were a lot of different emotions as you can imagine but those we spoke with say the walk was all about uniting and honoring the 161 people who lost their lives and those who were injured, honoring the heroes and volunteers, the courage and compassion that we've seen and celebrating all that's been achieved in the last year.
Putting the past behind them was also something many residents spoke of today.
"I think it is a good milestone," says Joplin resident Kellie Waldo. "It'll help people realize 'okay, we can do this - we set our mind and our heart to it, we can move forward. No more living in the past. Yeah, we can always remember the loved ones that we lost. There will always be a place there for them. But we can not sit there and dwell on that, we've got to move forward.'"
"To come back and watch, to see what's happened here in the last year is just amazing as far as the clean up, restoration, and the rebuilding," says Dan Cunningham of Dallas, Texas. "You drive down Range Line and it's come back to life, you can tell. We want to be a part of that."
Over the past year we've seen a lot individual achievements, with businesses going back up and people moving into their new homes. But today really brings all of those together in one and in a way helps everyone to now move forward.
And that's another huge step in the recovery process.
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