Cover Story
In Joplin and on the road, truckers huddled through storms with and without their families

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

Todd and Jamie Arnold had returned from the Flying J for only minutes when they heard the tornado warning crackling through their truck radio’s speakers.

“There is a tornado that has touched down in Joplin city,” the voice warned.

Seconds later, trash cans, building insulation and pieces of metal flew through the air. The Arnolds huddled in their lower bunk under a blanket.

A sound unlike any they’d ever heard – like a train, “only much louder” – led to their truck shaking, then shaking harder.

“Oh my God!” Jamie yelled as Todd said Hail Mary prayers.

With a sound like shotgun blasts, both back bunk windows blew inward.

A few minutes later, the tornado had passed.

As a burst of tornadoes hit Kansas, Missouri and Minneapolis in late May, truckers huddled in terminals, truck stops and their bunks for one of the deadliest days of tornadoes to hit the United States.

Immediately after the tornado left the Joplin Flying J truck stop, other drivers walked around, knocking on doors to check on people’s safety. They saw that the truck stop, while still standing, was missing windows and much of its guts.

Fuel pumps had been ripped from the ground.

Trucks were smashed on top of other trucks, and boards and other debris were wedged into walls and truck and car bodies.

Jamie Arnold said some injuries were reported at the Flying J, but they had heard of no deaths when they pulled out early the next morning and headed to Fayetteville, AR.

Todd, a trucker for 20 years and native East Coaster from Sabattus, ME, said being near a tornado was a first.

“And hopefully the last time,” he said.

Every time Sunday night’s winds whipped around the truck, Jamie woke up.

“There wasn’t much sleep happening,” she said.

Monday morning, the couple headed to Northwest Arkansas to drop off their load – on schedule. LL