By FOX News Radio's Jennifer Keiper in Joplin, Missouri
One year ago, today, a tornado with wind speeds over 200mph tore through Joplin, Missouri. At first, classified as EF-4, weather officials bumped it to EF-5 after surveying the damage.
Christopher Richardson says he and his 2 dogs rode it out in a crawl space, his house collapsing around him.
That two-story house looks like this, today.
The area around Richardson's house looks empty. The debris and many houses are gone.
What has sprouted from the rubble is a new and improved Cunningham Park, which is dedicated to the many volunteers who have and are still coming here to help.
More than 160 people died in the Joplin tornado, which touched down shortly after Joplin High School's 2011 graduation. Will Norton was on his way home when he was sucked out of his SUV - his father trying to pull his son back into the car. The teenager didn't make it. His body was found days later, in a pond filled with storm debris.
The family received a special invitation to last night's Joplin High School graduation where President Obama spoke to students. However, the Norton's declined, not wanting to be a distraction for a senior class whose final year was a trying one.
Joplin High juniors and seniors have been attending school at the local mall.
A Big Box store is now home to classrooms. The students will tell you that they've come a long way and are looking forward to the future.
The Mayor Pro Tem tells Fox News Radio they're about 60% done with the rebuilding of homes.
Some homeowners have added a little flare...
Others some humor...
There is progress here.
A new, larger hospital will open in another two or three years, just east of town, and residents are flocking to the new Cunningham Park.
Also, ground is expected to be broken this summer for a new high school.
Some might not think the building is going fast enough, but one resident tells Fox News Radio that going "slow" let's them soak it all in - it's not such a shock to the system.
Today's anniversary is filled with events to remember what happened, those who died, and look toward a new beginning.
The largest event will be the "Walk of Unity" with thousands of people expected to gather on the East side of town and walk toward the West, along the path of the tornado, which the National Weather Service says, created a 22-mile long path of destruction that was about one mile wide.
Jennifer Keiper in Joplin, Missouri
LISTEN to Jennifer Keiper reporting from the graduation ceremony for Joplin High School seniors where President Obama spoke:
LISTEN to Jennifer Keiper reporting from Jopin, MO, one year after the tornado struck: