Seven Joplin families will be introduced to the world during the series finale of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The program showcases more than simply a story about a construction site. From the volunteers to the builders, it became a story of survival.
May 22, 2011, 5:34 p.m. is a moment that forever changed the people of southwest Missouri. It's the time when the devastating EF5 tornado touched down in Joplin.
In minutes, the multiple vortexes of the storm took out over a quarter of the city. 160 people died.
"It really was devastating what happened there and you can't really put it into words what it was like," said Tony Kelley, a Springfield firefighter and president of the Missouri State Council of Firefighters.
While the survivors attempted to pick of the pieces, a group from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition quietly helped while also scouting their next project. It soon became apparent that Joplin would be the perfect backdrop for the 200 and final episode for the series.
Less than a month after the storm, a member of the EMHE team contacted an Ozark native to help facilitate the project: Sam Clifton.
Clifton has strong ties to the area. He is the owner of Millstone Custom Homes and also is the Mayor of Nixa. Besides for politics, he has a quality appealing to the television crew: he was the lead builder on another EMHE project. In 2009, he successfully led an Ash Grove family's build.
To read more about the Hampton Family's EMHE experience, click here.
"The days after the storm, you hear the stories of people and how they survived and what they went through," explained Clifton. "And I thought, 'They can't just do one family and leave. It has to be bigger."'
It was much bigger. The goal? 7 homes in 7 days.
"The whole thing was an emotional build," said Clifton. "It's a build that was of the heart, it was a build that was a healing process for people."
Over 13,000 volunteers, many who were survivors of the storm, did whatever they could to help, as long as their stories were heard. Many on the crew would stop and listen to the details of when the storm hit, and in some cases, who was lost.
"I had one woman who just wanted to hold a hammer and nail something," detailed Clifton. "Her father died and he was a carpenter. And that was her tribute to him."
Time was of the essence for the EMHE crew. Every second was calculated and people worked around the clock to get the homes completed. Yet for one special moment, people put down their tools, powered off their machines, and sat in silence. 5 months to the day and hour to when the storm struck, there was a commemoration. A ladder fire truck flying an American flag pulled onto the site. Clifton called the flag "beautiful."
"We needed to show tribute to the people who were first responders," said Clifton. "The fire truck pulls up and I end up turning around and I see thousands of people. It was unbelievable. They raise this beautiful flag, and I start to see people all around me crying."
Even the production crew, stopped what they were doing to join in.
"What we were doing in Joplin, what the responders did, how people you know died that night and how people got up and helped people. That's what America is all about," the builder said. "The Midwest can show the world what it's really about and it was the most incredible experience."
Many on the job sites have the same feeling. 30 Springfield firefighters, along with members of the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, and people from the surrounding states, gave up their free time to help one of their own. Kyle Howard is a Joplin firefighter who was on duty the night of the tornado. His young family was safe, but everything else, destroyed. Kelley and others helped remove debris the day after the storm from Howard's decimated lot and with EMHE, they helped to rebuild his new home.
"It was nearly firefighter-built from top to bottom. We had a hand in almost every phase of the construction," said Kelley proudly. "The floors were done completely by us. It was just a great time to get together with your friends and your brothers and lay down some floor for another fireman."
For everyone involved, including the 21 builders and over 13,000 volunteers, it was evident that the spirt of Joplin couldn't be stopped with a storm.
"The love was just unbelievable," said Clifton. "It truly is what America is all about."
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition airs in the Ozarks on KSPR Friday from 7-9 p.m. Around the country, view the program on ABC.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun