Deadly tornado ravages US state

2011-05-23 11:10

Chicago – Authorities say at least 89 people have died in the massive tornado that struck the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.

City manager Mark Rohr announced the number at a pre-dawn news conference outside the wreckage of a hospital that took a direct hit from yesterday’s storm.

Rohr said the twister cut a path nearly 10km long through the centre of town.

Much of the city’s south side was levelled, with businesses, homes and restaurants reduced to ruins.

The tornado struck Joplin near the border with Oklahoma and Kansas yesterday evening, less than a month after a horrific tornado outbreak left 354 dead across seven US states.

It was the deadliest of 46 tornadoes reported to the National Weather Service in seven states yesterday.

“It’s a war zone,” Scott Meeker of the Joplin Globe newspaper told AFP.

“We’ve got hundreds of wounded being treated at Memorial Hall (hospital), but they were quickly overwhelmed and ran out of supplies, so they’ve opened up a local school as a triage centre,” Meeker said.

People clawed through the rubble looking for friends, family and neighbours after the storm tore buildings apart and turned cars into crumpled heaps of metal.

Flames and thick, black smoke poured out of the wreckage of shattered homes, and water gushed out of broken pipes as shocked survivors surveyed the damage, early photos showed.

A tangled medical helicopter lay in the rubble outside St John Regional Medical Center, which took a direct hit.

Jeff Law (23) was able to take shelter in a storm cellar and was overwhelmed by what he saw when he emerged.

“I’ve lived in this neighbourhood my entire life, and I didn’t know where I was,” Law told the Springfield News-Leader.

“Everything was unrecognisable, completely unrecognisable. It’s like armageddon,” he said.

The emergency manager at the neighbouring county of Springfield-Greene was told that at least 24 people were killed before he rushed over to help, a spokesperson said.

With many phones down in the area, it was difficult to get further confirmation.

“It’s so devastating we can’t even grasp it at this point,” Rob Chappel of the Jasper County coroner’s office told AFP.

“We’re still trying to rescue victims that are still trapped. With it being so dark and no electricity, everyone has underestimated how much is just gone.”

Chappel said authorities probably won’t know the exact death toll before late today at the earliest.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated National Guard troops in response to what he described as “significant destruction in multiple areas, including Joplin, where a tornado struck St John’s Regional Medical Center”.

The badly damaged medical centre was evacuated yesterday, and Nixon warned that the storms are not over.

“These storms have caused extensive damage across Missouri, and they continue to pose significant risk to lives and property,” Nixon said in a statement late yesterday.

“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,” he added.

US President Barack Obama sent his “deepest condolences” to victims and said the federal government stood ready to help Americans as needed.

“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,” the president said in a statement sent from Air Force One as he was flying to Europe.

“We commend the heroic efforts by those who have responded and who are working to help their friends and neighbours at this very difficult time,” the president added.

On Saturday, a deadly tornado pummelled the east Kansas town of Reading, killing a man and damaging an estimated 80% of Reading’s structures, mostly wood-frame buildings.

According to witnesses, it crushed a grain elevator, tore the top off the red brick post office, blew the back off the local fire department building, tore houses off foundations and uprooted trees.

“We have nothing, no place to call home. It’s hard,” Jill Scales, a Reading resident, told reporters. “We’re just still in shock. We don’t know where to go from here. What do you do?”

A tornado was also responsible for the death of one person in Minneapolis, Minnesota, yesterday, authorities said. At least 30 others in that city and its suburbs were injured.

Two of those injured were in critical condition, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, who surveyed the affected area from a helicopter, described the damage as “widespread and significant”.

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