JOPLIN, Mo. — Carmen Borup first survived Sunday's devastating Missouri tornado sitting in her car, then quickly documented by photos posted on Facebook the ensuing ruins of her Mormon meetinghouse and the nearby high school.
In the several days since, her photos have provided an eyewitness account of the destruction for LDS Church members concerned how the impact of the deadly tornado affected fellow Mormons in Joplin.
By Monday morning, Borup had posted 22 heart-wrenching photos under the Facebook album name "Our Stake Center is Gone . . ." about the devastation to the building used by the Joplin Missouri Stake and several ward congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She followed that up with a brief email exchange early Wednesday morning with the Deseret News, still online well after 1 a.m. to take advantage of "spotty electricity" in Joplin.
"Our town looks like a war zone, feels like a war zone, complete with a curfew, boil order, lack of electricity, water in some places, (and) buildings — and disorientation because all the familiar landmarks are gone," she shared in the email exchange.
"My husband served in Iraq, and he said that Iraq has nothing on this.
From her emails and her Facebook comments, Borup recreated Sunday's scene. She was on her way home after picking up her son Christopher when the tornado hit. She witnessed the indiscriminately selective powers of a tornado, surviving the storm in her car while "the tree beside the car I was in was de-barked."
A few people remained in the Mormon meetinghouse and survived the storm by taking cover in protected, secure areas when civic warnings went off 20 minutes before the tornado hit.
While no one would expect the neighboring high school to be occupied on a Sunday, the school ironically was conducting its graduation ceremonies — but across town at Missouri Southern State University.
"I think that the death toll would have been much worse had the graduation not just ended when it hit," Borup wrote, "but the stores were pretty much empty and the roads clear."
And her husband, a doctor, was only a few minutes from leaving for Joplin's Regional Medical Center, she added. "So all over the place, if we had taken this step or that step, the outcome would have been tragic. There are stories like that all over the ward."
After the storm had cleared, she made her way to the LDS meetinghouse.
"I walked around the stake center in shock, and all I could do is take pictures," she said, adding "(taking) pictures of what strikes me, trying to document the moment."
She provided photos and text descriptions from her makeshift tour, pointing out downed doors that used to be entrances, a toppled brick steeple that previously reached heavenward, and single-standing walls that hours before were part of hallways.
Some of the detailed shots included images of a painting of Christ washing his apostles' feet, still hanging on the wall leading to what used to be the stake president's office; of donation envelopes still neatly resting in small rack on an interior brick wall splattered with mud; and of a half-crushed, half-buried, half-muddied framed picture of Henry Anderson's rendition of a resurrected Savior descending from the heavens at the Second Coming.
"This one really hit me," she wrote of the latter damaged picture. "We have it in my house right now. It was one of the ones we brought home that I didn't want to get taken away or destroyed even more."
Borup's Facebook photos were downloaded by a number of media outlets — including the Deseret News and KSL-TV — for next-day reporting of the tornado's devastation.
Matthew G. Montague, first counselor in the Joplin stake presidency, also sent in additional images of the downed meetinghouse.
"Even though several members of the Church lost their homes in the disaster, initial assessments indicate that members are accounted for, and only a few of them require hospitalization at this time," he reported.
Creed R. Jones, Joplin stake president, was featured on CNN in a touching interview about his tornado experience, having left the graduation with his family in several vehicles separated by the storm. His home was one of the dozen LDS houses destroyed by the tornado.
Borup said she called her congregation "a very fortunate ward," given that the tornado was eventually labeled as an EF-5 multivortex tornado, the highest rating given to twisters by the National Weather Service and assigned based on damage caused. The "multivortex" label describes conditions where two or more smaller and intense subvortices orbit the center of the larger tornado.
"It is an unbelievable thing," she wrote. "But for all of the devastation, it is amazing how fortunate our ward has been. For all of the homes lost, families haven't been, and that has been a miracle in a town that is still missing well over a thousand (people)."
Borup said she has been overwhelmed by the reaction to her Facebook photo gallery.9 comments on this story
"I have received hundreds of Facebook messages from people all over the world, some of them who don't even speak English," she wrote. "A friend who lives on the other end of town was sent the pictures by her brother-in-law in another state, and that was the first time she saw them."
Borup said her intent to post the photos was to show local members of the damaged building and its inaccessibility.
"It has turned into something incredibly different," she wrote. "I am glad that people are so interested in what is going on here, and I hope that when they see devastation like ours, a little of the 'unnecessaries' in life fall off their backs and they remember what is important."