Monday, May 23, 2011

Tornado rips through Joplin

JOPLIN, MO (KSMU) - Officials in Joplin fear the death toll from Sunday night's tornado is as high as 89.

Eastern Kansas and southern Missouri were pummeled by severe thunderstorms Sunday evening, the strongest of which struck Joplin around five o’clock.

The National Weather Service in Springfield says that the tornado’s path wasn’t particularly long, especially for a tornado of this strength, but it was devastating because it hit a heavily-populated area, according to meteorologist Andy Boxell.

"Some of the pictures we've seen thus far do suggest the tornado was likely at least half a mile wide in some locations, so it was a very large, a very strong tornado," Boxell said.

St. John Regional Medical Center in Joplin evacuated nearly 100 patients after the hospital took a direct hit from the tornado.

Some were moved to Freeman Hospital in Joplin while others were being moved to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield and to a hospital in Arkansas.

At least two National Weather Service survey teams will head to Joplin early this morning to begin to assess the damage.

"They'll go out and evaluate the structures that were damaged," Boxell said. "Meteorologists and engineers in the past have done studies to determine what kinds of wind speeds result in a particular amount of damage for a particularly built structure, whether it's a commercial building or a single-family home, an apartment complex, things like that, and so, by evaluating that damage, we should be able to start to get an idea that suggests how strong that tornado was."

Southwest Missouri isn’t out of the woods yet. Boxell says the area has a chance for strong to severe storms through Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has activated the National Guard following Sunday’s storms. President Barack Obama says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with state and local agencies in response to last night’s tornado. He says the federal government is prepared to provide help as needed.

Michele Skalicky, KSMU


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