Butterfly is symbol of hope in Joplin, Mo.

Six months after the deadly tornado, the children of Joplin are creating their own symbols of hope and rebirth.
CBS News

It was six months ago this coming Tuesday that an F-5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, destroying nearly one-third of the city and killing 161 people.

Today, homes are being rebuilt, businesses are reopening. And as CBS News correspondent Karen Brown found out, children are creating their own symbols of hope and rebirth.

Six months later, the tornado still haunts Joplin, Missouri.

"So much debris started hitting us, that you just had to cover your head and close your eyes," recalled Diane Huddleston.

"From there it was things hitting you in every direction," added her daughter Emily.

Both Emily, an eighth-grader, and her mom were tossed hundreds of feet in the family Suburban. Emily's leg was cut to the bone -- apparently something from the car that flown in took a chunk from her leg, as she remembered.

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But as they found shelter in a damaged building, Emily said she felt a comforting presence.

"I remember on this shoulder a hand touched me like right here," she said, "and they told me everything was going to be OK."

As Joplin is on the mend, its children have found their own symbols of hope.

"It's actually really weird," said Emily, "but ever since then, I'll be walking outside and a butterfly will come and land on me ... like on my arm or on my back.

Brown asked Diane: "What about these butterflies that land on Emily?"

"They are just amazing," said Diane. "She's got a whole new open spirit about her."

Emily's house is being rebuilt, along with nearly half of the homes damaged by the storm. City manager Mark Rohr took Brown on a driving tour.

"We've had 100,000 registered volunteers," he said. Those people would take time out of their lives and their routine to come to our city to help us. We refer that as the miracle of the human spirit that has occurred in Joplin, Mo., and I believe it.

Emily's symbol of hope is shared by many other children. In a temporary classroom, they draw butterflies.

And on Main Street, there is a new mural -- a community project now peppered with butterflies. Some say they're guardian angels that many kids believe they saw during the storm.

"I like how the community is all coming together," Emily said. "that we are being watched over..."

Emily's scar is healing and wounded neighborhoods echo with the sounds of a metamorphosis.

There is now a saying in Joplin: The devil came to town, but the angels followed.