Valley Falls native cheats death in Joplin tornado
by Marveta Davis
Two feet. That’s all that stood between Morgan Ratliff and death.
That’s what the 21-year-old Valley Falls native told her mother, Liz, by phone after she survived the horrific May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo.
Morgan, a 2008 graduate of Valley Falls High School, has been attending Ozark Christian College this spring and working at a part-time job with Heart-to-Heart, a home health care agency, both in Joplin.
On the day of the tornado, Morgan was returning from participating in a special project in Iowa. All of her belongings were in her mother’s car as she pulled up to the Stained Glass Theater in Joplin where she volunteers. It was the last performance of that particular play and Morgan was there to help take down the sets and put the props away.
Morgan looked around the parking lot , noting it was full of cars. The theater had a full cast, crew, and audience. Exiting her car, she heard the tornado sirens going off. It was around dinner time, 5:30, maybe 5:40. Entering the theater at the ground level she mentioned to the ushers and those in the front office that sirens were sounding and that they should get the audience, cast, and crew down into the basement. But time had run out. Morgan walked to the basement and took cover behind a recliner. Immediately the upstairs fell through to the basement where Morgan was crouching. Beams were falling all around her.
“Two more feet in either direction and I would be dead,” Morgan said.
Liz said her daughter suffered scrapes, bruises, and a gash, but the worst injuries are mental and emotional.
“She’s so traumatized. She can’t close her eyes without seeing the destruction of the theater and the dead lying around her after she emerged from the rubble,” Liz said.
Two people were killed instantly. Others have died since then from their injuries. The parking lot was empty with the exception of one or two cars. Morgan lost several friends in the storm.
The theater was located one block from St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which has been given so much attention because of its complete destruction. Many injured had to be taken to Springfield, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City. Those less injured were treated in MASH-like tents set up later.
Morgan’s car was finally located about 1,000 yards from the parking lot. Although it had contained 90 percent of her belongings, the car was empty with the exception of an old pair of gloves, the registration packet, the owner’s manual, and the car insurance papers.
Liz and Morgan are trying to reconstruct what was in the vehicle for insurance purposes.
“Belongings don’t mean much to Morgan any more, after what she’s been through,” her mother said.
Morgan has not said how she got out of the destroyed theater. Perhaps she does not remember. She does remember two people helping others to emerge from the devastation.
“My daughter is in trouble. She’s going through a very difficult time,” Liz said.
Morgan’s mother said her daughter cannot be in a building she thinks is “flimsy,” such as a wooden structure or one with lots of windows. She is afraid to be out in the open and seeks the security of brick buildings and sturdy structures.
Although Morgan has no material possessions, her mother says she has many friends reaching out to her. Ozark Christian College is closed for the summer but it has opened its dorms to students, faculty, and staff who have no place else to go. They are providing food for them as well. Other local churches are helping including Morgan’s church, College Heights Christian Church, who has organized a distribution center for donated items.
Liz said Joplin is probably the most religious town in the the world. Located in the Bible Belt, she said she is glad her daughter is in that kind of caring atmosphere.
“Morgan doesn’t want to come home. She wants to be with people who have experienced what she has gone through and know how she feels. She is with people who care for her. I can’t imagine what she’s gone through.”
Morgan’s mom said there were lots of funerals last week and Morgan had already attended several. Liz is hoping that after those services are all over some healing can begin for her daughter and others.
After the tornado hit, Liz and her husband, Michael, and daughter, Logan, 16, had to wait for Morgan to contact them. Power lines were down and cell phones did not work for some time. Liz said she was a nervous wreck not knowing. Morgan calls or texts several times a day.
“You want to help your kid so bad, but you can’t fix it like you did when she was a little girl. I try to understand and hope she can move forward with her life.”
Morgan kept complaining of headaches so friends took her to a doctor who found that there was a large amount of debris in her nose and sinuses. After treatment, the headaches have ceased.
Those who would like to help Morgan may call Liz at (785) 945-6208 or drop by her house at 1909 Willow Street. Liz is the librarian in the Valley Falls schools.
When Liz went to the AT&T store in Topeka and explained that her daughter had lost her phone in the tornado, they gave her a new one — no charge.
The Farr family —
Dr. Jay and Sheila Farr moved to Joplin from Valley Falls in March of this year. The Valley Falls community was abuzz with stories that their home was destroyed or that Jay’s chiropractic office was gone. Jay’s parents, Dr. Stan and Donetta Farr, report that neither is true. The family is fine and their home and clinic are intact.
Donetta believes the confusion came about because the Kansas City Star ran a picture of a home that was destroyed and reported that it was the Farr home. In fact, an employee of the clinic lost a home and the staff was there helping to sift through the rubble for anything salvagable.
Jay and Sheila have two young children, a daughter, Taylor, and a son, Eli.
The Flory family —
The Dan and Linda Flory home was destroyed. They were in the house when the roof fell in but neither was injured, according to Jeannine Flory, their sister-in-law, Nortonville. An adult daughter was not home at the time.
The home was located a half block from the totally destroyed Wal-Mart that was shown often in the news.
Family members took a Bobcat to Joplin the next day to take a tree off of the garage so the couple could get their cars out. Dan is the brother of Tom Flory, Jeannine’s husband.
The Nortonville Pleasant Grove Christian Church collected items and money for the Joplin victims. Jeannine said people were very generous and the items were delivered Sunday. A 16-foot trailer was used and it was half full.
Some 8,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in the three-quarter-mile-wide tornado. The EF 5 twister, with winds of 200 mph, is considered the deadliest in six decades, since 1950. Joplin took a direct hit.
Organizations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and United Way can always use donations to assist in these disasters.
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