Coincidence or Divine intervention? Joplin tornado survivors sh - KOAM TV 7

Coincidence or Divine intervention? Joplin tornado survivors share stories

Part One

Three years after the Joplin tornado, some buildings have been rebuilt and some hearts have healed, as much as time has allowed.  But some specific questions have left a void in the lives of many Four Staters.

Psychologists say the answers to many questions in life can remain unanswered.  But this can be difficult for a particular question:  Why did people survive the Joplin tornado?  Psychologists say difficulty can come when accepting the answers.

Merle Allen, a KOAM news anchor during the 1960's, is used to telling the facts.  He says what happened just before the Joplin tornado was extraordinary.

"I didn't do what I always did, for some reason, that day," says Allen.

He attributes this to some form of a higher being.

"I think there is a power that's beyond us," says Allen.

"Tragedies happen.  We don't know why.  Nobody knows why.  But we try and make sense of it," says psychologist Conni Rush.

Merle owned two rental houses on a some property, one of many that were in the path of the EF-5 twister.  

Some tenants moved out of one of Merle's homes on Friday, two days before the tornado.  On Sunday, the day of the tornado, Allen checked on the home that was recently vacated, and also talked with a man living in the other home.

"He said he was going to just lay down and take a nap," says Allen.

Merle was just about to leave for his own home.

"Turned on the radio.  We're on a tornado watch," says Allen.

He realized he hadn't locked the door to the basement of the home that was vacated.  But he decided to leave it unlocked.  He left both properties for his own home at 4:30 in the evening.

Less than an hour later, the tornado touched down.  By the time it was done, 161 people were attributed to dying because of the tornado.

The man Merle talked to just before the tornado survived.  He didn't have shelter in his home, but went to the basement of the vacated house.

"The fact that big house had a basement in it, saved his life.  The little house, the only thing left was the foundation.  The fact that he's alive today, I'm not taking credit for it at all.  I've not even thought of it that way.  I don't know who to attribute it to, necessarily," says Allen.

Conni Rush is a psychology professor at Pitt State University.

"I've heard people say that everything happens for a reason.  And I don't think that's right.  But I do think that you can find meaning in the things that happen to you.  I think it's just really hard for us to accept that things happen," says Rush.

"If there was any divine intervention, it was the fact that I didn't lock the back door.  Because having property, I've had to make sure they were secure," says Allen.

Many have turned to religion for answers.

"I'm not sure whether I'm called to have all the answers," says Pastor Josh Pennington.

Pennington is the pastor of Christpoint Church in Joplin, and is a survivor of the Joplin tornado.

"I don't understand why we were saved and there were others that were lost.  But I do know that it was God who protected us," says Pennington.

Religion offers faith to accept the unanswerable.

"What happened was not ordinary circumstances," says Allen.

Merle has his own explanation of why people survived the tornado.

"I believe that some circumstances are preset to happen for individuals," says Allen.

He believes he only facilitated what was meant to happen.

"It was a set of circumstances that were the best they could be for us," says Allen.

Part Two

Coincidence or divine intervention?  Three years after the Joplin tornado, we sat down with some Joplin residents to hear why they think they survived the storm.

In our earlier report, we heard from one man who believed there was the perfect set of circumstances, before and after the Joplin tornado, to save a life.  Psychologists say human nature is to look for answers, whatever they may be, to some of life's difficult questions.  

There are memories of an uncertain day.

"I think it's a day that we'll never forget," says Pastor Josh Pennington, pastor of Christpoint Church in Joplin.

161 people were attributed to dying because of the Joplin tornado.

But for many survivors of the tornado, there's been one haunting question.

Psychologist Conni Rush says, "Why did I live, when the person next door to me didn't?"

"Obviously, it wasn't my time to go," says David Durall.

Durall was inside a hallway at the Christpoint Church during the tornado.  The church building has since been rebuilt.

"The noises were horrible, just hearing everything break and not being able to see what's going on because you had your head down.  It was very frightening," says Durall.

Durall's pastor, Josh Pennington, was beside him and remembers the same.  But the two survivors remember being unusually calm.

"I felt a sense of peace that no matter what happened, that God was in control," says Pennington.

The two were praying.

"As the building was coming apart, you could feel the wind pulling you up.  But at the same time, every time you would feel something pulling you up, you would feel something pushing you back down," says Durall.

Durall and Pastor Pennington believe there was divine intervention.

"I really do believe it was God just protecting us and just keeping us safe," says Durall.

There were 13 people taking shelter in the Christpoint Church, and the worst of any injury were some minor scratches on one person.

"We all have an appointed time with the Lord.  And so our purpose is not finished yet.  We still have a purpose to accomplish," says Pennington.

Pittsburg State University Psychologist Conni Rush offers a different explanation.

"I think people try to find a reason.  And there isn't one, sometimes," says Rush.

But can a person survive a disaster without any reason why?

"I think that's really hard for people to do.  It's just like if we see a group of lines together, we try and make a picture out of it.  I don't think any of us know why anything happens, or why we're here, or anything like that.  And I think part of life is trying to make sense of that, and find a meaning in our existence, and what we do, and who we are," says Rush.

There's faith i believing in a purpose in life.

"People want immediate answers to why things happen.  And sometimes it puts a question mark over their faith.  And sometimes it weakens their faith, because they don't have the answers," says Pennington.

With or without religion, there's a common goal.

"Survive and then thrive," says Rush.

"That's how I'm living every day," says Durall.

Pennington says, "Maybe our purpose and our calling is to reach out to those who have lost, and we can be a beacon of light to them?"

Many of the survivors we talked to, in and out of this story, say they get comfort and acceptance in life by offering comfort to the friends and family of those who perished on May 22, 2011.

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