An anniversary Jefferson City never wanted

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JEFFERSON CITY - On Friday, May 22, Jefferson City will reach a milestone that no one asked for. One year ago, an EF-3 tornado went through the town, destroying homes and businesses. 

To this day, residents and city officials say that night is etched into their memory. 

"It feels like eight years or seven years ago," Jefferson City Mayor, Carrie Tergin, said. "It has just been such a year. You find yourself, at odd times, thinking about it, even throughout the whole year that we've been through this." 

Many can recall that night like it was only yesterday.

"I just waited for the world to end," Andrew Buchanan, a survivor of the tornado, said. "I was watching out the back door and I heard things snapping, cracking, popping, and that's not noises that storms make. Those were transformers blowing up." 

Buchanan lived in one of the most heavily hit areas of the city: Ashley Street.

The storm ripped the porch and roof off of his house.

"We still never figured out where [the roof] landed," he said. 

Surprisingly, Buchanan said he sees himself as one of the lucky ones.

After assessing the damage, he said,"this is the best day of my life. I'm not hurt, this is great."

Buchanan was able to begin rebuilding his house right after the city began granting building permits. As a result, while most people just started rebuilding in September, he was already moving back into his house. 

But, if he learned anything from the storm, it's that you never know what the future holds. 

"I lost my son last October," he said. "After that, you weigh the differences, I'm not so worried about storms anymore." 

Despite the massive amounts of damage, no lives were lost in the Jefferson City tornado.

"I was almost in disbelief, because when you see the amount of damage in the community, you almost wonder how," Tergin said. "How did people get out? How is everyone okay."

Tergin said the resilience of the Jefferson City community impressed her in the days following the tornado. 

"People who lost everything, with their house behind them torn up, are saying 'what can I do to help my neighbor?" she said. "What can I do to help other people?"

After the tornado, thousands of volunteers from across the state descended on Jefferson City to lend a helping hand. But, even with all the help, the town is still working to recover. 

"Long term is really long term," Tergin said. "This is something that will take years to recover."

She said the recovery committee is still working in teams to bring back displacement housing and other programs for those affected. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity continues to rebuild houses around town. 

Although the city has come a long way, Tergin said there is still a long road ahead.

It's important, however, to celebrate progress.

"On Friday, which is the one year anniversary, we had originally planned a big, community celebration, which is now going to be more virtual, but that's okay," Tergin said. "We were going to do a raising of the wall to show that one of the homes we were rebuilding. We're still going to do that virtually."

The city and United Way will also be holding a "Care-a-Van" event. Tergin said the parade will aim to thank the first responders who were on the front lines in the days following the tornado. It will all come to an end on Ashley Street, where workers will raise a wall in a rebuilt home. 

Buchanan said all you can really do after a disaster like that is look forward.

"You just keep going," Buchanan said. "The worst thing that could possibly happen to me has happened, from there, going forward, nothing bothers me that much." 

Tergin said the community has already come back stronger and thinks that strength will only keep growing with time. 

"We've been through a lot," she said. "But this has proven that we are strong enough to weather whatever storms come our way."