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Many Joplin residents refuse to leave tornado-wrecked town

JOPLIN, Mo. — The tornado took windows from his house and part of his roof, but Jessy Ford wants it known it’s not taking him.

He’s 88 and bought the place for $2,500 when he and Barbara got married in 1948.

“I’m not leaving,” he said Wednesday on his front porch as he took a break from cleanup. “This is our home. Where would we go?”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people in this torn-apart city say the same thing. No roof, no windows, no lights, no matter — they’re staying put.

These “refusers” live in neighborhoods on the fringe of the area flattened by Sunday’s EF5 tornado. Theirs is a land of blue tarps, plywood, chainsaws and rugged resolve.

They could go to a shelter, but they worry about looters, they worry about rain, they worry about their things. They seemingly believe they can keep their home if they are there to hold the walls.

As one woman said, “If we leave, we’ll have nothing to come back to.”

Kevan Cole and his wife, Tonya, have three children, ages 14, 13 and 11. They lost windows and lots of shingles.

“I’ve got leaking up top and flooding in the basement,” Cole said Wednesday. “We’re flushing the toilet with buckets of rainwater. No shortage of that. But we’re OK. We don’t need power.

“Plus, we don’t want to take up shelter space from someone who needs it more than us.”

One woman, although determined to stay, said she does feel isolated.

“Without electricity, we don’t always know what’s going on,” she said.

But there is a beauty on these ugly streets. Neighbors share. They help each other. They cook on grills because there is no electricity, and they invite others to share a bite.

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