Past Portales residents and Portales High School graduates Justin and Kari (Thompson) Nevins lost their family home in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday when an EF5 tornado hit the city, destroying multiple homes and killing 125 people.
Kari Nevins said her family went into the house cellar after hearing the second tornado siren and seeing the sky outside.
“It’s kind of protocol in Missouri. We don’t ignore sirens because we know tornadoes are serious,” said Nevins. “When we heard the second siren, we definitely felt a change in the air and the outside sounds. Justin and I looked at each other and we knew this was it. We were getting hit. We just huddled together and held tight and prayed, prayed for us and our neighbors.”
Nevins said the cellar windows blew out and small parts of the house fell down around her, her husband and their four children as they huddled together beneath the screaming noise of the tornado.
“It was scary,” she said. “The kids asked ‘What’s happening to our house?’ We told them it’s going to be bad but it’s going to be okay. I was so proud of the kids. They really handled it so well.”
Nevins said after the tornado was over, her family climbed out of the cellar to hear their neighbors calling for them. Nevins stayed in the basement with her children and three teenagers while her husband and others went to look for other survivors.
“It looked like atomic bombs had gone off everywhere,” Nevins said. “It was crazy and very surreal. This is a home we’ve had for nine years. Looking at our yards and our neighbors yards and having memories of how things were then having to go out and make sense of what you see now. You almost can’t tell what street you are on anymore.”
Nevins said her family is staying with friends in Joplin and are taking things one day at a time for the time being.
Her mother, Portales resident Carolyn Thompson, has set up a relief fund account for the Nevins at James Polk Stone Community Bank in Portales called Roosevelt County General Foundation for Justin and Kari (Thompson) Nevins.
“They have no reason to gather material things right now, because there is nowhere to store it,” Thompson said. “But financial assistance is welcome.”
Thompson said she did not know about the tornado until her daughter called to tell her she had lost her home but they were OK.
“I was relieved because my babies were OK,” she said. “They had community there that took them in for the night.”
Nevins said she has no idea what the city’s long term plans are, but Joplin is a strong community and she has no doubt it’s residents will pull together and come out of the situation strong.
“Now it’s just a process of surveying the damage and trying to decide what’s next,” Nevins said. “There are a lot of people worse off than us so we feel led to distribute the money left after we fulfill our needs to other families in our neighborhoods who don’t have the support system we have.”
Nevins said the city has said 1,200 people are still missing and the city has remained under tornado watch.