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Documentaries, nature

Witness: Joplin Tornado

YEAR: 2011 | LENGTH: 1 part (45 minutes)  |  SOURCE: NATGEO


April 2011 was the most violent month of tornados in history. From Texas to New York, more than 700 twisters touched down that month, killing over 300 people. The weeks that followed, however, saw a break in the pattern of severe weather; the worst, it seemed, was over.

Then came Sunday, May 22nd.

That afternoon, just after 5:00pm, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Joplin, Missouri. The day was sunny and the weather calm, so many in Joplin paid little heed to the sirens they so frequently hear in springtime. By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late—an EF-5 tornado packing winds of 200 miles an hour was carving a mile-wide path through the center of the city. The tornado sheared off two floors of the city’s main hospital, demolished dozens of businesses and churches, and rendered whole neighborhoods unrecognizable. In the end, the storm would leave 161 dead and more than a thousand injured.

Weaving together dozens of professional and amateur archival sources, along with dramatic interviews with the people behind the cameras, Witness: Joplin Tornado reconstructs the deadliest tornado in modern times, through the eyes of those who lived through it. A group of strangers huddle together in a convenience store cooler, shrieking in terror as the tornado tears apart everything around them. A husband-and-wife stormchasing team find themselves caught in the teeth of the storm, then pressed into service when it finally passes. A young mother sobs as she surveys her daughter’s destroyed bedroom. Yet all the while they film, using their cameras to record both the harrowing experience of the storm itself and the shock of what confronted them after — homes destroyed, neighborhoods flattened, a city devastated.

Using minimal narration, Witness: Joplin Tornado tells the story of that day and its aftermath entirely through the videos and voices of the survivors. In doing so, it serves as both a visceral, you-are-there account of nature’s wrath at its most ferocious, and a powerful testament to the spirit of the people of Joplin.

Weaving together dozens of archival sources, along with dramatic first-person interviews,Witness: Joplin Tornado reconstructs the deadliest tornado in modern times, through the eyes of those who lived through it.


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