Brigham City woman recalls memories of LDS Church in Joplin, now demolished by tornado

Published: Monday, May 23 2011 7:35 p.m. MDT

Remains of a stake center in Joplin, Mo., is destroyed after a massive tornado ripped through the small Missourri town Sunday, killing more than 100 people.

Carmen Mcintyre Borup, Carmen Mcintyre Borup,

BRIGHAM CITY — Kelli Riem scrolls through Facebook photos, looking at the remnants of her childhood.

"That's the wall, and that's the Christ picture," she said, pointing to the slab left standing of the only LDS meetinghouse in Joplin, Mo. "I was baptized there 31 years ago. And it's totally demolished. All the memories we had there."

The building was flattened Sunday by a powerful tornado that killed more than 100 people.

"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," said President Matthew G. Montague, first counselor in the Joplin stake presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Riem, who moved to Utah five years ago, was born and raised in Joplin, so tornadoes were a way of life. She remembers one tornado her family survived.

"My roof was torn off and I was hiding in the bathroom with my daughter when she was little," Riem recalled. "And our trampoline was twisted like a twisty tie."

When news of the tornado in Joplin hit Sunday night, Riem immediately tried to call her aunt Carol.

"She lives there in Iron Gates community … right by the hospital," she said. "That's right by the hospital where St. Johns was hit and devastated really bad."

When Riem couldn't reach her aunt because the phone lines and cell towers were down, she started fearing the worst.

"We heard so many stories of people out there who did die," said Riem.

Riem managed to reach a cousin through Facebook and asked him to go check on their aunt.

"It took them an hour and a half to get up to where she was," said Riem. "She was OK. It was troubling and very hard not knowing if she was alive or not."

Riem is also still waiting to hear from her childhood friend who was working at the Golden Corral restaurant in the area when the tornado hit.

"He got everybody into the kitchen area to get people away from the windows," she said.

Once the tornado passed she said her friend received news.

"He got a call that his house was totally demolished," she said. "He lost his home while he was helping other people."

Riem continues scrolling through the photos on a Facebook page depicting the damage to the stake center. She stops on the photo of tithing envelopes propped in a holder still fastened on a wall. "All that stands," she writes in a message below the photo.

The LDS Church said in a statement Monday that local priesthood leaders would continue to assess needs, with plans to contact officials in affected areas to determine how to assist with response efforts. Church members have begun already to assist with the clean-up.

Mormon missionaries in the area are also safe and accounted for, church leaders said.

Riem wants to leave to get out there to help her old neighbors. But she'll have to wait until next month when her kids are out of school.

Meanwhile, she reminisces as she looks through what's left of her old chapel, now a pile of rubble and wood.

"There's the steeple," she laughed. "They're not like the fancy steeples here."

Riem points to a mangled looking pile of debris and recalls her youth.

"There's the class room. That's where we had Young Women. And me and my sister were both baptized on the same day. February 2nd."

And then she points to the chapel. It may look like a shell, but for Riem, the debris holds memories of her youth, her old stomping grounds and her family.

Email: niyamba@desnews.com

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