A massive tornado packing extremely high winds left a path of destruction through southern Missouri on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 5:40 p.m. CDT.
The city of Joplin, with a population of 50,500 was especially hard hit by what the National Weather Service (NWS) called the fourth deadliest tornado on record since 1950, with at least 90 persons confirmed dead, and over 2,500 buildings destroyed accorded to reports published on Monday, May 23, 2011 by CNN, St. Louis Today, The Boston Channel, CBS News, the New York Daily News, and multiple other news sources.
At one point, the signature funnel cloud grew as wide as three-quarters of a mile along an estimated four-mile track, according to the Missouri Emergency Management Agency.
St. John’s Regional Medical Center was especially hard hit, with sheets of glass blown away from one facade of the building. A parked helicopter used to evacuate patients was turned over on its side and destroyed, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip which accompany this report.
The hospital had 183 patients when the storm struck. There was no information if any of them were injured by the storm. They were taken to other area hospitals, as distant Springfield, Missouri, and Northwest Arkansas.
Sirens gave residents about a 20-minute warning before the tornado touched down on the city’s west side.
According to Joplin Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer, in additional to the medical center, the tornado hit the most densely populated area of the southwest Missouri city, destroying homes, vehicles, churches and schools. A Wal-Mart store took a direct hit, and a nursing home was also destroyed.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol shut down Interstate 44. Up to a dozen big rigs had been overturned by the force of the winds.
More than 1,000 police and fire responders from over 40 agencies are searching frantically for survivors who may be trapped by debris, in an area which looks like a war zone.
Making the job of rescue more difficult are fires that have erupted from broken gas mains, sparked by downed power lines. Five families were pulled out of the rubble on Monday morning, after being trapped overnight.
Missouri governor Jay Nixon expressed a sense of hope, mixed with urgency, saying “We still believe there are folks alive under the rubble and we are working hard to save them.”
White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said that President Barack Obama had ordered Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate and an incident management team to Joplin to coordinate federal disaster relief assistance efforts.
While Joplin was devastated the most by the path of the tornado, it was part of a line of severe weather that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, prompting tornado watches and warnings that stretched from Wisconsin to Texas. High winds and possible tornadoes also struck Minneapolis, MN, killing one person there.
There were a total of 68 reported tornadoes across seven Midwestern U.S. states over the weekend, stretching from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC).
Debris from Joplin, including hospital x-rays and medical charts, were blown as far away as 70 miles, ending in driveways in Dade County, Missouri.
The worst tornado on record since 1950 happened in Flint, Michigan, on June 8, 1953, killing 116 people. As bad as that disaster was, it doesn’t come close to the devastation of the 1925 Tri-State tornado in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana which was reported to be the deadliest ever, with an estimated 695 fatalities, according to the National Weather Service archives.
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