Hunkered down in a Joplin convenience store when all Hell broke loose
Most of the nearly 800,000 people who had “watched” his video on YouTube by Monday afternoon, know him only as “izelsg.” But in the space of less than six minutes on Sunday night, he managed to capture nearly the full range of human response to crisis.
Izelsg, who, according to his YouTube profile, is a 23-year-old college student, was among 12 – 20 people huddled together in a gas station convenience store, when the Joplin tornado bore down and engulfed the building.
Though shot as video, there is little we can see. By this time, the power had gone out and the store’s occupants were huddled in darkness. The minutes that follow are made more compelling by the dearth of images. Only the occasional flashlight beam or lightning strike punctuate the sound of desperation and survival.
The scene starts out in relative calm as people try to organize themselves for a possible tornado strike. A woman admonishes someone — presumably her son — to stay away from the windows. In the blackness, some try to estimate how many people are in the store.
About a minute in, lightning begins to intensify outside and the mood inside turns more urgent. Two minutes in, glass is heard shattering and suddenly the storm is inside with them. Children cry, adults scream and people begin to pray fervently out loud.
At about three minutes in, there’s a minor lull and a man tries to reassure the group, saying, “We’re good, we’re good.” But seconds later, the full brunt of the funnel appears to seize the store and — understandably — pandemonium ensues.
A man makes a declaration to someone unseen, perhaps thinking it’s his last: “I love you!”
This mostly black video is at once horrifying and uplifting, partly for what we don’t hear. We don’t hear arguing, looting or ruthless competition for the safest hiding places. Mostly what we hear, apart from the unvarnished terror, is people helping and comforting one another in the most hellish moments imaginable; redeeming sounds, given that most of these people were likely to be strangers to one another.
“Be careful, there’s glass on your back.”
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
“Is that you below me?”
Scientists are being asked a lot lately whether climate change is behind this spring’s seemingly unbroken string of life-threatening weather around the nation. Credible scientists will admit that it’s simply too hard to say. What they will say is that it’s consistent with what global warming is likely to bring forth. It’s chilling to contemplate that this kind of YouTube moment may become all too common in years to come.