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JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A battered but stately tree has fallen after standing for nearly seven years as a symbol of hope for the tornado-stricken Joplin community.

Artists and residents painted the Spirit Tree in bright colors and memorialized it in connection to the 2011 tornado that ripped through Joplin.

Resident Doug Hunt told the Joplin Globe that he wants to make sure the symbol of the town’s tornado resiliency isn’t forgotten. He suggested preserving its memory by building a sculpture in a local park or keeping part of the original tree in an airtight glass container for public display.

“I want to replicate what (the artists) did with whatever technology is available, and I believe the community will rally behind this,” Hunt said. “I’m also envisioning a plaque that would tell the story of (the artists) and their passion, and why the tree was painted.”

Hunt said he and some friends first noticed the tree and others like it in May 2011, when they were helping with search-and-rescue efforts after the storm.

“One of the things that stuck out to me were the trees that had been debarked,” he said. “It looked like bare hands trying to reach up out of the rubble, and it was such a powerful image for me.”

Several residents said the Spirit Tree was showing signs of deterioration in the harsh weather for some time.

“We knew when we painted it that it was temporary,” said Dolores Bilke, who helped with the project. “I’m really surprised it lasted as long as it did since it was dead when we painted it.”

Hunt is forming a committee to explore options. He said he’s not sure how he’ll accomplish honoring the tree, but he’s committed to ensuring the community remembers its legacy.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe,