Earlier today, October 19, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” traveled to tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri, to celebrate its 200th episode in historic fashion. The show surprised an unprecedented seven families with the door knock that changes lives; the “EM:HE” design team and many others will rebuild 7 homes in just 7 days. This episode will air later this season on ABC.
On May 22, 2011, a catastrophic tornado ravaged the town of Joplin, killing approximately 160 people and destroying nearly 8,000 homes. Some of the Joplin families lost friends, some lost children, and all lost their homes. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” will take on its biggest build ever – 7 homes for 7 deserving families by 7 different designers. On hand today was “Good Morning America” Weather Anchor Sam Champion, broadcasting live from the door knock with the Howard Family. “GMA” will keep viewers apprised of the progress on the build this week and next, and, in a first for “EM:HE,” will air one family’s reaction — the Howards’ — to their new home’s “reveal” live on air next Wednesday, October 26 between 7:00 am – 9:00 am ET.
The parents and children from all seven of the Joplin families have been whisked away on a dream vacation to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, while “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team leader Ty Pennington, designers Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, Michael Moloney and Tracy Hutson, along with Sam Clifton from Millstone Custom Homes — who is lead builder for 21 builders — and approximately 10,000 volunteers and community members build the structures.
The build location is 2402 Connor Ave. Joplin, Missouri 64804. These are the stories of the seven families:
The Howard Family – Kyle Howard, the father and a Joplin fireman, was at work at the fire station during the storm and spent the first two hours after the tornado not knowing if his wife and kids had made it out alive. He made many stops along the way home through the rubble, rescuing trapped victims and tending to injured members of the community. Meanwhile Jill and their children, Konnor, Korbin and Kaleb, huddled in a closet. A door landed on top of them, which they used to deflect the debris. This ultimately saved their lives. After the storm, they had no idea if Kyle was alive, but eventually the family, along with eldest son Keenan, who’d been out of town at the time, were reunited. Jill sustained minor injuries, but their home was completely destroyed.
The Nevins Family – Kari and Justin Nevins love Joplin, and prior to the tornado their home was known as “the neighborhood’s house,” where kids could play, have refreshments and hang out. Kari is part of Bright Futures, an organization whose goal it is to increase graduation rates through teaming with businesses and faith-based partners to provide for the needs of students. Karin and Justin, along with their children, Uriah, Avery, Cana and Rhoen, ran to the cellar during the tornado. As they huddled together, they felt its brute force as it ripped apart their house. After making sure his family was safe, Justin immediately started helping others by searching and digging neighbors out of the destruction. The tornado not only destroyed their home, it destroyed the entire neighborhood and the school Kari had worked so hard for. The Nevins are now staying in a rental home 17 miles outside Joplin, but want to come back.
The Cogdill Family – Single mom Crystal Cogdill works for the Joplin Housing Authority. She has a passion for helping people find housing, but in a cruel twist, now finds herself homeless. In the tornado, Crystal lost her 9-year-old son, Zach Treadwell. Upon hearing the sirens, she hustled her kids inside the house and, following her emergency plan, huddled with them in the bathtub. As the home came apart around them, she felt her grip on her children weakening. The storm eventually overpowered her and ripped the kids from her arms. When she next saw Zach, his lifeless body was pinned beneath a utility pole. Stunned, Crystal is joined by her friend, also named Crystal, and the two soon make a horrifying discovery — both of them have lost children to one of the most devastating weather events this nation has ever endured. Currently Crystal Cogdill lives with friends, in the process of starting over.
The Whitely Family – Before the storm, Crystal Whitely was the ultimate single mother, taking care of her three kids and working as a personal care aid. Crystal loved working with her elderly or disabled clients, but her kids were her life. The night of the storm, the whole family took cover in the bathtub, but moments later the house was pulled off its foundation. Though she tried desperately to hang on to them, 10-year-old Shante and 6-year-old Trentan were ripped from her arms. Only Crystal and her 4-year-old daughter, Keana, survived.
The Walters Family – In 2006 Tom and Emily Walters bought a house with dreams of raising their family in the beautiful, small town of Joplin. Emily is a nurse, and Tom a coach and teacher. Together they dedicated their lives to helping and nurturing the happiness and well-being of others. When the siren sounded on May 22nd, the family didn’t realize what was coming their way. It started hailing and then, all of a sudden, it got worse. The Walters ran to the bathtub. Huddled together, they felt the roof rip off and objects hurlting around, as 9-year-old daughter Chloe cried out to her mom and dad, “Don’t let me die!” Feeling helpless, all Tom and Emily could do was pray with Chloe and ride out the storm. As soon as it passed, Tom and Emily knew people in the neighborhood would need help. After making sure their daughter was safe with a neighbor, they ran down to a nursing home that had caved in and began digging people out. Tom and Emily helped rescue several people. Since that day, with their home destroyed and unable to be rebuilt, they’ve moved from place to place.
The Nguyen Family – Thang Nguyen (pronounced “win”) came to the U.S. in search of the American dream. Thang was in the Vietnamese Air Force and fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Afterwards he was able to move to the U.S. with his family and took a job with General Mills in Joplin. He was on the verge of retirement when the May 22nd tornado took away his dream. That Sunday night, Thang had a craving for seafood; though his wife, Tiffany, had already prepared dinner, Thang convinced her to go out to eat at a local seafood restaurant. It was lucky for them that she gave in. The tornado missed the restaurant but tore their home apart. Had they stayed in that night, they might not have survived. The Nguyens had been living with Tiffany’s daughter, Sara, and their granddaughter, Alex. They received help from a local church and are now living in an apartment funded by insurance. However the lease will be up in December, and Thang and Tiffany will be left with no place to live.
The Gonzalez Family – Having both been divorced, Natalie and Scott (who live with Natalie’s son, Augie) didn’t think they would remarry. But when the tornado took their home, they changed their minds. Before moving to Joplin, Natalie had lived in California and once saw a special about earthquakes, from which she learned that putting a bicycle helmet on your child’s head could save his/her life. When the tornado hit in Joplin, the family huddled in their bathtub, with Scott on top holding on to a mattress and Augie wearing a bicycle helmet. The roof flew off, and suddenly the Gonzalez family was facing the full brunt of the tornado. Scott was lifted up, then thrown back down in the bathroom. A toilet from the second bathroom flew through the air and hit Augie; the helmet he was wearing was shattered, but it saved his life. Natalie was pelted with debris while trying to protect her son, and her back was severely hurt. While Scott was up in the air, he watched his family below. It was at this moment he realized that, if they all survived, he wanted to marry Natalie and become a legal stepfather to Augie. When the wind calmed briefly, Natalie realized they were in the eye of the tornado, that their house was gone and that they wouldn’t survive the second wave, so the family rushed over to a drainage ditch to find cover. Watching Scott carry her son with his good arm (the other suffered a compound fracture), Natalie knew Scott would be her husband. They survived the tornado, broken and without a home, but their family had grown stronger and closer. Scott proposed to Natalie a few weeks later, and now they want to start over. The Gonzalez family is currently living in a rental outside of town, but they love Joplin and plan on driving Augie back for school.
“EM:HE” is produced by Endemol USA, of Endemol Holding, and executive-produced by Brady Connell & George Verschoor. David Goldberg is Chairman, Endemol North America.