A man carries a young boy who was rescued after being trapped in his home after a tornado hit Joplin, Mo. (Mike Gullett, Associated Press / May 22, 2011)
A series of turbulent storms swept through the Midwest on Sunday as a powerful tornado slammed into Joplin, Mo., ripping the top off a hospital, shearing parts of the roof off a high school and turning major retail stores into heaps of rubble and twisted metal.
A coroner’s official reported at least 30 people dead in Joplin, according to Reuters news agency, but the tornado’s rampage through the middle of the southwestern Missouri town of 50,000 left officials concerned that the number could be much higher.
“It’s total devastation,” Gov. Jay Nixon said as he dispatched the National Guard and emergency rescue teams in a race to find survivors. Search-and-rescue efforts were expected to continue throughout the uneasy night.
“We are responding aggressively, quickly. We want to make sure as the night goes on that we’re saving lives between now and dawn,” the governor told CNN. “There are a number of injuries. It’s going to be a long night and a difficult recovery.”
President Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was responding. “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,” he said.
Phone service in and out of the city was largely cut off.
Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. John Hotz said the state had dispatched 50 state troopers and a mobile communications unit in an attempt to learn the extent of the damage and injuries. Another 19 officers would be en route in the morning, he said.
“It’s a serious situation, but I can’t give you an assessment of the damage or the injuries until we get reports,” he said. “Certainly, we are doing everything we can to get help to the folks in the affected areas as soon as possible.”
Hotz said there were reports of “a number” of tornados across Missouri.
In Minneapolis, a tornado tore through the northern end of the city Sunday afternoon, killing one person and injuring at least 30 others. The same turbulent weather spawned a tornado in Reading, Kan., Saturday night that killed one person and destroyed about 20 homes as parts of the town were pelted with hail the size of golf balls.
Violent thunderstorms, including lighting, hail and powerful winds, were threats throughout the evening Sunday across at least six Midwestern states as a cold front moved in to confront a moisture-rich, low-level air mass, the National Weather Service warned.