In Joplin, rebuilding, remembering, a year later

One Joplin neighborhood after tornado tore through it
JOPLIN, MO - MAY 20: Construction workers put together what will eventually be an apartment building that is replacing one that was destroyed when a tornado hit almost one year ago on May 20, 2012 in Joplin, Missouri. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the town. The tornado left behind a path of destruction along with 161 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but one year later there are signs that the town is beginning to recover. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle

(CBS News) JOPLIN, Mo. - A year ago Tuesday, this city was changed forever by a massive tornado that tore it apart, nearly wiping it off the map and causing almost $3 billion in damage. About a third of the Joplin was destroyed.

One-hundred-sixty-one people were killed.

President Obama heads to Joplin Monday to address the high school's graduation. The tornado hit just after last year's ceremony ended.

A year ago, the amount of debris was just overwhelming, and you wondered how they would ever clean it all up.

But now, new homes going up almost everywhere in Joplin. The rebuilding effort is in overdrive.

So, there is progress, but this has been a very tough year for a lot of people here.

The F5 tornado that reached down from the Missouri sky was more than half-a-mile wide and tore a path 13 miles long.

The wound it left was deep: more than 7,000 homes damaged or destroyed and many lives lost.

Today, you can still see the scar that stretches across Joplin.

Yet, you can also hear the healing as homes are built.

Mary Hazelbaker was at church when the storm came to town.

Can she believe it's been a year already? "No," she said. "It seems like yesterday."

She thanks God she was at church because the tornado drove right down her street.

She's 84, has no children and has lived in five different places this year.

It has been a long year, she said. "It's been a lonesome and lost year. ... I've lost all my friends. I don't know where some of them are."

"I wish I knew about some of them," she added, crying.

CBS News first met Hazelbaker just after the twister hit.

"This is my stuff!" she was exclaiming. "All of my memories are here. All of 'em."

Her house of 50 years, and nearly everything in it, was gone.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said through tears at the time.

Does she miss all of that? "I realized I didn't need all of it," Mary replied. "I could live with the roof over my head and eats and clothes, and that's all I need. I don't need nothing."

Mary did need help. She found it one day at a thrift store, where she met Dana Ross, a Salvation Army case manager.

"I saw this elderly lady," said Ross. "She was trying to carry this large bag out the door, and I thought, 'Wow, I don't see anybody helping her."'

Ross found a charity that offered to help build Mary a new house, because she had no insurance.

The new house will be next to where her old one stood. She'll have the very same address. "4010 West 26th Street Joplin, Mo.," Mary said proudly, chuckling.

The place she's always lived? "Yes," she said.

Her new home will be much more secure.

"These homes are really built to last a lifetime," builder George Van Hoesen said.

He's building Mary's house and 17 other storm-resistant homes in Joplin.

The walls are filled with 6 inches of concrete, designed to handle 250 mile-per-hour winds.

So, people aren't living in a bunker, but you're living in the next-best-thing. "That's the idea," Van Hoesen said, "and the idea is that all the exterior walls are places (where) that you can shelter yourself from debris."

Throughout Joplin, you also see tornado shelters. They're designed to hold up to 34 people and withstand winds of up to 250 miles-per-hour.

All of this gives Mary Hazelbaker some peace of mind.

But she says an even stronger force is keeping her safe: the cross from the church that's still there.

She expects to move into her new house at the end of next month - on her birthday.

To see Ben Tracy's report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent based in Washington, D.C.