Archive for Monday, May 23, 2011

Joplin tornado death toll reaches 116; search and rescue efforts continue

May 23, 2011, 3:43 p.m. Updated May 24, 2011, 12:46 a.m.


— Rescue crews dug through piles of splintered houses and crushed cars Monday in a search for victims of a half-mile-wide tornado that killed at least 116 people when it blasted much of this Missouri town off the map and slammed straight into its hospital.

It was the nation’s deadliest single twister in nearly 60 years and the second major tornado disaster in less than a month.

Authorities feared the toll could rise as the full scope of the destruction comes into view: house after house reduced to slabs, cars crushed like soda cans, shaken residents roaming streets in search of missing family members. And the danger was by no means over. Fires from gas leaks burned across town, and more violent weather loomed, including the threat of hail, high winds and even more tornadoes.

At daybreak, the city’s south side emerged from darkness as a barren, smoky wasteland.

“I’ve never seen such devastation — just block upon block upon block of homes just completely gone,” said former state legislator Gary Burton who showed up to help at a volunteer center at Missouri Southern State University.

Unlike the multiple storms that killed more than 300 people last month across the South, Joplin was smashed by just one exceptionally powerful tornado.

Not since a June 1953 tornado in Flint, Mich., had a single twister been so deadly. That storm also killed 116, according to the National Weather Service.

Authorities were prepared to find more bodies in the rubble throughout this gritty, blue-collar town of 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City.

Gov. Jay Nixon told The Associated Press he did not want to guess how high the death toll would eventually climb. But he said: “Clearly, it’s on its way up.”

Seventeen people were pulled alive from the rubble. An unknown number of people were hurt.

While many residents had up to 17 minutes of warning, rain and hail may have drowned out the sirens.

Larry Bruffy said he heard the first warning but looked out from his garage and saw nothing. “Five minutes later, the second warning went off,” he said. “By the time we tried to get under the house, it already went over us.”

As rescuers toiled in the debris, a strong thunderstorm lashed the crippled city. Rescue crews had to move gingerly around downed power lines and jagged chunks of debris as they hunted for victims and hoped for survivors. Fires, gas fumes and unstable buildings posed constant threats.

Teams of searchers fanned out in waves across several square miles. The groups went door to door, making quick checks of property that in many places had been stripped to their foundations or had walls collapse.

National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said the storm was given a preliminary label as an EF4 — the second-highest rating assigned to twisters based on the damage they cause.

Hayes said the storm had winds of 190 to 198 mph. At times, it was three-quarters of a mile wide.

Some of the most startling damage was at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, where staff had only moments to hustle their patients into the hallway. Six people died there, five of them patients, plus one visitor.

The storm blew out hundreds of windows and caused damage so extensive that doctors had to abandon the hospital soon after the twister passed. A crumpled helicopter lay on its side in the parking lot near a single twisted mass of metal that used to be cars.


kusadgirl 6 years, 12 months ago

I lost both my parents and my little brother to this tornado. I was supposed to drive home on Sunday but my Dad told me to wait till today because of the weather. I wish I wouldn't of listened to him and went back home so I could of been with them.

emceelean 6 years, 12 months ago

That is extraordinarily sad. So sorry for your losses.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 12 months ago

I am so sorry. As much as I know you wish you could have been with them, as a parent, I know that I would be happy that my child was safe and alive. Please carry on. I think you know that would be what your parents would want.

whats_going_on 6 years, 12 months ago

oh my gosh. My thoughts are certainly with you and your family. I'm so sorry.

jayhawks79 6 years, 12 months ago

I am So sorry for your loss. I can not imagine what you are going thru right now. But I hope you do realize that your parents would be so thankful that you are alive and safe. All they want for you is to live your life and be happy. Try to stay strong and live out your dreams in memory of them. They will always be with you and always be a part of your life. Prayers are with you.

I know many people from the joplin area, becuase i grew up in southeast kansas. I would love to go down there and help out, but right now feel if I just showed up I would be in the way more then I would really be helping. Does anyone know of ways I can volunteer? I know financial donations are needed, which I have done/ But are there ways to volunteer time or other things?

luv2raft 6 years, 12 months ago

I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. I'll pray for you and your family.

bangaranggerg 6 years, 12 months ago

I don't know you but I can't stop crying and I would do anything for you right now.

Angela Heili 6 years, 12 months ago

Oh honey. I'm so sorry for your loss. There is a reason you were left behind. God still needs you here. I've never lost a close family member, so I don't know how you feel, but hang in there hun. I'll keep you in my prayers!!

northtowngrl 6 years, 12 months ago

Oh Sweetie, I'm so sorry for your loss. I am keeping you, your family and all of Joplin in my prayers. It is surely a comfort to your loved ones to know that you were safe here. Please be strong for your dad.

countrygirl 6 years, 12 months ago

Oh wow! Your dad would have been glad you listened to him. You must still be with us for a reason Honey. Please take strength in that and know your family is watching over you now. Hugs and Prayers.

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