JOPLIN – Despite violent weeping and people fervently pleading to God all around her, Casie Harding clearly heard the announcement everyone dreaded, “It’s in the parking lot!”
Immediately Harding and her husband, Burton, as well as everyone else crammed in the back of the Joplin Walmart hit the floor. Harding stayed in the fetal position with her husband over-top her and a shopping cart over him.
“The tornado was like a monster coming for us … it even sounded like some kind of horrible monster and though we tried the best we could, there was nowhere to hide,” she said.
Harding kept her eyes closed while the EF-5 tornado flattened the store. She imagined that the next time she opened her eyes; she would be encircled in the arms of Jesus.
“It lasted a long time and all I kept saying was ‘In Jesus’ name Lord protect us, in Jesus’ name, Lord, protect us,” she said.
At one point while the massive tornado lingered over them, her husband looked up at it. He later told Harding that it looked like they were underwater, the ceiling shifting like waves of the sea.
“I briefly glanced over and saw some young girls gripping each other and telling God that they loved Him,” Harding said through overwhelming tears. “They were begging Him to spare them and they were praising Him through it all. This storm was about to kill us and yet they were praising Him. I remember praying, ‘Yes, Lord, I agree with them,’ because the Bible says where two or more are gathered I will be there with them … and I know He was.”
When the tornado finally passed, Harding and her husband were able to dig out of what was left of Walmart with just a few cuts and hail-inflicted bruises. Sadly, many lives were lost there that day.
“I can’t believe we survived,” Harding said. “At one point we were standing further back in the store and I told Burton that we should move up a little. Then afterward, the area we had moved out of was the most covered. People were buried there and it would have been us too, had we not moved up four feet.”
After experiencing such a horrifying nightmare, Harding, a long-time member of Round Grove Baptist Church in rural Miller, has been made aware of how short life really is.
“People and loving them are the important things in this world,” she said. “You don’t know when your last day will be. Walmart seemed safe but there was nowhere you could run or hide. It was either your time or it was not your time. Even as I was waiting for the Lord to take me home all I could think about was how I wished I had loved people more. I wished I had done more for them. And I do love people. But after this I will show them even more love.”
KAYLA RINKER/contributing writer