For Joplin, Mo. student, a bittersweet graduation after a year of loss

(CBS News) JOPLIN, Mo. - Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the F-5 tornado that hit Joplin, Mo. The devastating twister caused $2.8 billion dollars in damage; 7,500 homes were damaged or destroyed and 161 people lost their lives.

President Obama addressed the graduating class of Joplin High School Monday night, and CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy met one of those graduates, who has learned a hard lesson this year about loss.

A plot of empty land is all that's left where Quinton Anderson's house used to been. Anderson doesn't like to think about what happened there -- but he also cannot forget.

"I spent 17 and a half years living there and no longer," Anderson said. "I mean, you have the memories, but you don't have the place to visualize it."

In Joplin, rebuilding, remembering, a year later

When the half-mile-wide tornado roared into Joplin it tore right down 26th Street. That's where Quinton lived with his parents Bill and Sarah Anderson.

"The tornado literally came right through your house?" Tracy asked.

"Yeah, literally."

The family huddled together in the hallway.

The next thing the 17-year-old high school football player remembered is waking up in the hospital with a broken back, a fractured skull, and his older sister telling him what he had lost.

"I knew my parents were dead and that the house was gone," Anderson said.

"I'm one of those people that doesn't cry when people are around, so when I was alone at nights, I would cry," he recalled. "It was just kind of like the realization, like, I'm an orphan now, and I just have my sister."

"I miss my mom's smile and I miss my dad's goofy laugh," Anderson said. "They were kind of a goofy couple, but they loved each other."

Quinton also lost his school. Joplin High was leveled. All that's left is a pile of rubble. But Joplin is determined to rebuild.

New houses are going up on many blocks. Church steeples are rising. The city's main park is growing again. A temporary high school was opened inside a strip mall; a sign reads, "Hope."

As Quinton graduates with honors from Joplin High, he's heading to college with two goals: To become a molecular biologist and make his parents proud.

"What's it going to be like to graduate and not have them sitting there in the audience?" Tracy asked Anderson.

"In all reality, they get to see it, but I just don't get to see them there," he said. He believes that his parents are watching, he said, and that gives him comfort.

"You don't really realize how much your parents do for you until they're not here anymore," Anderson said.

In Joplin, there are many spaces that can never be filled.

  • Ben Tracy

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