By RICHARD ESPOSITO, LEEZEL TANGLAO, KEVIN DOLAK and MICHAEL MURRAY
May 23, 2011
The death toll in Joplin, Mo., rose to 90 today as officials described the monster tornado that hit the city as a "once in a generation event."
Meteoroligcal records show that this was the deadliest tornado since 1953 when a twister hit Worcester, Mass., and caused 90 fatalities.
Rescuers shifted through rubble today looking for survivors as high winds and hail continues to plague the area.
The tornado blasted a four mile wide path through the city and left trapped survivors crying out for help this morning.
"You see pictures of World War II, the devastation and all that with the bombing. That's really what it looked like," Kerry Sachetta, the principal of Joplin High School, which was mangled by the tornado. "I couldn't even make out the side of the building. It was total devastation in my view. I just couldn't believe what I saw."
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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Sunday evening and activated the Missouri National Guard in response to the destruction.
St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin was evacuated after it took a direct hit from the tornado. Every window in the facility was blown out and the top two floors were blown off, ABC News affiliate KMBC reported.
Hospital spokeswoman Cora Scott told the station that 183 patients were in the hospital at the time and the facility only had five minutes warning that the tornado would strike. More than 100 patients have since been evacuated to other hospitals, Scott said.
Seven people have been reported dead at a nursing home, according to police reports.
In the city of about 50,000 people 160 miles south of Kansas City, the tornado was reported to be a mile wide, with winds of nearly 200 mph that ravaged the area.
Kelley Fritz, a 45 year old resident of Joplin, when out with her family after the storm to survey the damage. "My sons had deceased children in their arms when they came back," said Fritz. "My husband and I went out and saw two or three dead bodies on the ground."
Authorities estimate 25 to 30 percent of Joplin has been damaged by the tornado, with highly populated areas having been hit by the storm.
Cries could be heard early this morning from people trapped below the wreckage, while crews have been pulling out bodies and lining them up in the streets for loved ones to identify, according to ABC News affiliate KODE.
Search and rescue efforts are being hampered by continuing severe weather today, including 40 mph gusts and hail. Strong winds can topple the cranes used to lift wreckage, although current wind speeds are still allowing their use.
More severe weather, including high winds, rain and hail, is expected tomorrow before the storms finally abate later in the week, according to Accuweather meteorologist Mark Paquette.
There is also a fear of gas explosions in the storm's aftermath and authorities are telling people not to light any cigarettes because so many gas pipes are broken, causing concern that what's left of Joplin might go up in flames, KODE reported.
"These storms have caused extensive damage across Missouri, and they continue to pose significant risk to lives and property," Gov. Nixon said. "As a state, we are deploying every agency and resource available to keep Missouri families safe, search for the missing, provide emergency medical care, and begin to recover."
State and local law enforcement agencies, including fire mutual aid, are coordinating search and rescue and recovery operations. The Missouri State Highway Patrol sent troopers from other regions to help local officers in southern Missouri deal with the destruction, the governor's office said in a statement.
Keith Stammer, emergency management director for the city of Joplin, told "Good Morning America" that all 25 of the city's sirens did activate, and that there was a 20-minute notice from when the sirens were activated before there was a first report of a tornado strike.
"At the moment its surreal, our landmarks are gone -- road signs, places where you know to turn -- we're doing search and rescue, going house to house on that six mile strip," Stammer told "GMA."
Jeff Piotrowsky, a storm chaser who was in Joplin at the time the storm hit and spoke to "GMA" about witnessing the tornado form over the city, said, "We saw a big cloud mass and we knew it was going to start tornadoing. It quickly brewed to a half mile wide, then three-quarters ? then it came to the heart of the city," Piotrowsky said, adding that "there was a warning, about 17 minutes."
Federal Emergency Management Agency Region VII set up a response coordination center and sent a liaison team to the Missouri state emergency communications center, according to a FEMA official.
"Basically it's an all-out effort to get all of the most important resources available for this type of situation down as soon as possible," a state emergency management representative said.
In total, 70 tornadoes were produced by the storm system since Friday, including at least 47 tornadoes Sunday. Tornadoes were reported in seven states from the Canadian border to Oklahoma. Warnings and watches were posted from Texas to Michigan.
President Obama released a statement on the emergency late Sunday night, saying, "Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives in the tornadoes and severe weather that struck Joplin, Missouri as well as communities across the Midwest today. We commend the heroic efforts by those who have responded and who are working to help their friends and neighbors at this very difficult time," Obama said in the statement.
"At my direction, FEMA is working with the affected areas' state and local officials to support response and recovery efforts, and the federal government stands ready to help our fellow Americans as needed," he added.
Earlier Sunday, tornadoes had torn across other parts of the region, killing at least one person in Minneapolis.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Tornado witness from Concord: "tractor-trailers knocked over and tossed around like neglected toys''.
3:40 pm Headed north to Tulsa and are now on the Turnpike headed Northeast. A storm cell has developed in Southeast Kansas that is looking quite promising, and is moving SE. It is also 'right-turning' which that its forward motion has gone from a straight path to a bit of a right hand turn. This usually indicates that the storm is rotating, which is exactly what we want to see.
Sometimes vacations turn into reality.
Joplin. We chased the storm in Kansas, it was far away, but moving slowly. By the time we got to it we were on I-44 just before Joplin. The radar hook now showed a huge reflective ball, and it was more than any amount of rain or hail could produce. It was debris. And it was right over Joplin. We were looking at the radar image of rubble being thrown about by a massive tornado, and that rubble was the center of the city of Joplin.
The interstate travels south of the city, and the tornado was north of it, but sliding south. It was going to pass ahead of us. The storm was also massively rain-wrapped, it felt more like a hurricane than anything else. Our visibility was down to a few hundred yards, and sometimes less, as we neared the debris field. We slowed, and began to see damage; knocked over highway signs, downed trees, then a few houses without roofs, and then we were at the point where it crossed, only a minute before.
We saw tractor-trailers knocked over and tossed around like neglected toys. Cars were in ditches. We pulled over, and as several of us are trained first responders we went from chase mode to rescue mode.
I ran to the first truck, and was soaked within seconds. Lightning was hitting all around but we barely noticed. I came around the cab of the truck and the driver was standing up in his cab, talking on his cell phone. He gave a thumbs up sign to indicate that he was okay, and was actually now happy to be at least dry.
We had scattered to several trucks, and came back together. Most were ok, but the truck a few yards behind us was giving off smoke, and the driver had a gash on his head.
We got the driver out of his truck, and Michael (one of the storm chasing group), with his hail-proof vehicle, decided he needed to get to a hospital. The driver was bleeding a lot, and probably had a concussion. Some friends of ours who had joined our caravan then got another trucker and the two vehicles went off to get them to safety. We discussed going up into Joplin, a few of us had skills that might be helpful, but the decision was to bot add to the chaos with extra people and cars. We went south, planning to meet up with Michael at the hospital later on.
This was a high precipitation bomb of a storm complex, and the rain never let up as we tried to either get east or south of the rain. We went through the damage path of the tornado a second time then, and saw a ton of damage in the tiny town of Wentworth. Many trees were down, and several houses had structual damage. Eventually we had to give up and turn around to meet up with another van in our group. But cellphone service was out, as was electricity for the entire area and it was hard to get through to him. Eventually Charles, one of the people in our group, got him via text and we discovered that they had gone to the Joplin hospital instead of the one to the south that we had first discussed.
We had heard on the radio that the Joplin hospital had been destroyed. And that it was on fire.
When we finally met them later on, at a gigantic McDonalds on I-44, we heard a bit of what they had seen. And I could see the shock in their eyes. Dead and wounded and grieved in all directions. Whole neighborhoods had been leveled.
Now it is dark and we are headed to Tulsa where we have already secured rooms for all 25 of us. And the conditions for tomorrow are likely just as bad as they were today.
Day one done. Fourteen more to go.
Send a good thought out to the people in Joplin. They need it.
Chris Curtis plans to send boston.com/concord periodic updates of his two week storm chasing trip. "It can be a bit nomadic, as each day we head out with no idea of where we will end up, sometimes not even knowing which state we will be spending the next night within,'' he wrote before arriving in Oklahoma this weekend. "We usually gather at a set time, load up the vans, and go find some food, and then drive to our target area. That area will be dictated by the weather conditions that we find that morning. We try to position ourselves each night for the next day, and can sometimes drive into the wee hours of the morning to do so. Things can change while we sleep, so sometimes we get a surprise five-hour drive to start the day, when we thought we were in perfect shape the night before. It?s as if the weather has a mind of its own sometimes?''
MINNEAPOLIS -- At least one person died when a tornado hit Minneapolis on Sunday, damaging at least 100 homes, toppling hundreds of trees and injuring at least 29 people.
City spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the death was confirmed by the Hennepin County medical examiner. She had no other immediate details. Only two of the injured were hurt critically.
Tornado warnings and watches had been issued Sunday evening throughout parts of the central U.S. In Missouri, authorities said a tornado hit a Joplin hospital and caused the roofs of two city fire stations to collapse. Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer said a tornado hit the St. John's Regional Medical Center and that there are multiple reports of injuries.
The Minnesota storm's path tracked from the western suburbs, where it raked a condo complex and two businesses in St. Louis Park, before rattling north Minneapolis and hitting the northern suburb of Fridley, where it overturned two railroad cars and lifted roofs off several homes and damaged three businesses.
Though the Minneapolis damage covered several blocks, it appeared few houses were totally demolished. Much of the damage was to roofs, front porches that had been sheared away, or smaller items such as fences and basketball goals.
Harrowing Sounds From People Trapped During Tornado
People pray during storm
'Utter Devastation' After Tornado Tears Through Missouri
Joplin hit hard by deadly twister
Tornadoes Rip Through Midwest U.S.
Authorities in Joplin, Missouri warned that the death toll from Sunday?s tornado storm system is likely to rise from 90, as the rescue effort continued. The city was left in shambles, with churches, schools and homes left in the violent storm system's wake. Joplin's tornado spawned twisters along a broad swath of the Midwest, from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. At least one person was killed in Minneapolis.
The tornado left part of a garage door in a tree. Many large trees were uprooted and toppled or left leaning against houses.
Residents walked around their neighborhoods taking in all the damage. Some chatted on cellphones about what they saw, while others snapped pictures.
Others went to work, tending to downed trees with chainsaws, machetes and hacksaws.
The tornado left a tree leaning against Pat Trafton's house, but she said her family escaped harm.
"It's been a crazy day," Trafton, 67, told The Associated Press. "They say it was a monster tornado. ... It all just happened so fast."
National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Krause said it was clearly a tornado -- the first to hit the city since August 2009. "There was no doubt right away," the meteorologist said.
Police Chief Tim Dolan called Sunday's tornado "at least five times as large as what we saw in 2009." That tornado took off part of a church's steeple and toppled trees near the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
Dolan said a four-square-mile area would be under curfew overnight for the next three days to guard against looting.
Some north Minneapolis residents told the Star Tribune they saw the tornado go through their yards.
"It went right between our houses," said Tiffany Pabich, who was taking a nap just as the tornado passed. "A tree landed on top of my car. We smelled gas right away."
The storms uprooted as many as 50 natural gas service lines in Minneapolis and suburban St. Louis Park, and CenterPoint Energy warned residents to be careful of gas leaks. Xcel Energy reported more than 20,000 of its customers lost electricity in the metro area.
The Minneapolis Police Department asked people who didn't live in the area to stay away. A shelter for those displaced by the storm was set up Sunday afternoon at a nearby armory.
By Nicholas Riccardi and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
May 23, 2011, 7:46 a.m.
Reporting from Joplin, Mo. and Los Angeles— Search-and-rescue teams on Monday pored through rubble and wreckage, all that was left in many areas of Joplin, where at least 89 people have died, more than 2,000 structures have been ripped apart and whole neighborhoods have been obliterated after a tornado carved a six-mile path through southwestern Missouri.
Would-be rescuers conducted door-to-door searches, avoiding downed power lines that had ignited fires fueled by leaking gas. Debris was a constant danger and a barrier to search teams.
"We still believe there are people to be saved in the rubble," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters, describing the carnage in what is the state's worst tornado disaster. He warned that another storm was on the way, complicating rescue efforts.
President Obama expressed his condolences in a telephone call to Nixon from Ireland, where Obama is visiting, the White House said. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate will head to Joplin to coordinate federal disaster relief, said White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro.
Speaking on television, Nixon said it was good to speak directly with the president and that Missouri would welcome all of the help available.
More than 40 agencies were involved in the search-and-rescue effort, which was racing against the arrival of the next storm. Nixon said communications equipment was crucial in coordinating the rescue and relief efforts, which are being complicated by transportation difficulties. Interstate 44 was shut down, and streets were clogged with emergency vehicles and the wreckage of buildings.
"This is a developing situation," the governor said, "but we believe that there is a significant potential for saving lives."
The number of deaths stood at 89, but Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Colbert-Kean told reporters that the toll was likely to rise.
"While we haven't heard, it is expected to rise drastically," she said. "We don't know how high it can go. We're praying it wouldn't climb too high."
The weather was worsening with severe thunderstorms expected, she said. "We're waiting to see if the siren goes off again."
It was the piercing keen of sirens that shook the city of 50,000 at about 6 p.m. Sunday. Most agreed that the weather warning system worked, going off about half an hour before the brunt of the storm hit.
But the tornado was traveling so fast, Colbert-Kean said, that the danger was on the city before most had a chance to deal with the threat.
More than 2,000 structures were damaged, including a major hospital, St. John's Regional Medical Center. Perhaps 30% of the city, about 160 miles from Kansas City, was damaged. An unknown number of people were injured, and many were treated in makeshift shelters in churches, Colbert-Kean said.
The roof was blown off of the hospital, and most patients were evacuated. A local nursing home also took a direct hit, city officials said.
The tornado that hit Joplin was one of 68 reported across seven Midwest states, from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. At least one person was killed in Minneapolis.
But Missouri was by far the hardest hit in a season that has seen more than 300 people killed by tornadoes in the South last month. The South has also been dealing with massive flooding that killed one person and has caused billions of dollars in damage to property and crops.
by Armenia/finley township Location: Newminer, wi on May 23, 2011 at 06:14 AM
We here in the Township of Armenia and Finley got hit yesterday. We are just before Nekoosa two small towns. We have a big cranberry marsh here that lost everything. got hit on county road f between county road G and hwy 80 in juneau county. We have a mess and meny people that need help. we had Armenia fire dept and first reponders, necedah fire, new lisbon fire, and camp douglas fire up here for over 4 hrs last night after the store hit. Know one hurt in the store all ok but alot of damage. this is about 6 to 8 miles past rainbow casino. in a town called newminer and finley. if you have people in this area send them down.. this cranberrymash lost alot and long with the people 1 mile wide and more.
Taylor Swift Delights Nashville Crowd, Raises $750,000 for Tornado Relief Efforts
She Opens Final Tour Dress Rehearsal to Nashville Audience for Charity
Taylor Swift invested countless hours to prepare for the North American leg of her Speak Now World Tour. And after opening her final tour dress rehearsal in Nashville to the public on Saturday night (May 21), she helped the storm-ravaged Southeastern states invest $750,000 into their own communities.
After the first two songs came off without a hitch, Swift told the audience that during breaks from her previous rehearsals, she watched the news and saw people in the Southeast losing their homes and loved ones to tornadoes.
"I felt like if it was possible to help them in any way, we should do it," she said.
The $750,000 figure is based on ticket sales alone, Swift told the audience at Bridgestone Arena, adding that all merchandise sales (which hadn't been counted yet) will also go toward the fund. Swift also donated a red souvenir T-shirt to everyone who attended the concert.
"I cannot tell you what a difference you are making in the lives of our loved ones in the Southeast," she added.
May 23rd, 2011 @ 12:06pm
By Shara Park
SALT LAKE CITY -- A South Salt Lake woman was in Joplin, Missouri as part of a storm chasing group when a tornado hit the surrounding area.
Working with a group based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Natalie Colby told KSL in a phone interview that the tornado came within 600 yards of the group's vehicles. The group was watching the storm pattern, waiting for it to dissipate, she said, but suddenly the storm intensified and the tornado touched down on a direct path toward them.
"Right then, I looked up and could see a curtain open and there was the tornado, definitely a wedge tornado," Colby described. "I yelled ?Tornado!' And our driver did the best he could, trying to get us the heck out of there."
"Right then, I looked up and could see a curtain open and there was the tornado, definitely a wedge tornado. I yelled 'Tornado!' And our driver did the best he could, trying to get us the heck out of there." -Natalie Colby
The warning sirens followed shortly after.
The group considered stopping at a Home Depot on Range Line Road to take shelter from the tornado, Colby said, but decided to remain driving down the road. The group later learned from a radio broadcast that the Home Depot they had planned to take shelter in had been hit hard and was now rubble.
"Once I got into my hotel room, I got on my knees and prayed to God, saying, ?Thank you.'" Colby said. "Because I knew he had a hand in getting us out of it."
Colby said her heart broke for the people who were stuck on the road when the tornado hit because many of them had no idea it would come at them so fast. A group of teenagers laughed at her group when they were yelling at them to take shelter, but she doesn't know if they survived.
Candice Kell, 17, looks over her psychology textbook inside her grandmother's home in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011 after it was damaged by a tornado that destroyed nearly 30 percent of the town on Sunday afternoon. Kell and her grandmother, Jean Logan, rode out the storm in the laundry room. The twister cut a six-mile path through the city. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Adam Wisneski)
Anita Stokes surveys her home that was destroyed by a tornado in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011. A large tornado moved through much of the city Sunday, damaging a hospital and hundreds of homes and businesses and killing at least 89 people. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Rescue workers in lime-green jackets search for bodies and survivors inside St. John's hospital in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011. The hospital was damaged by a tornado that destroyed nearly 30 percent of the city on Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Adam Wisneski)
A rescue worker walks past debris at Joplin High School, which was severely damaged by a tornado in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011. A large tornado moved through much of the city Sunday, damaging a hospital and hundreds of homes and businesses and killing at least 89 people. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Don Atteberry, 89, crawls over a rail at his home that was severely damaged by a tornado in Joplin, Mo., Monday, May 23, 2011. A large tornado moved through much of the city Sunday, damaging a hospital and hundreds of homes and businesses and killing at least 89 people. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost