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'Horrific' tornado blasts Mo. city

At least 89 killed in Sunday evening storm; picking up the pieces across Midwest

JOPLIN, MO (UPI) | May 23, 2011

"It's been quite horrific. There are just areas that are flattened. Places are gone."

—Jerry Williams, Missouri Southern State University

A tornado that slammed into Joplin, Mo., killed at least 89 people, City Manager Mark Rohr said Monday.

Rohr said the Sunday night tornado, described by one resident as "quite horrific," cut a 6-mile path through the center of the city.

Other twisters roared through Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin, authorities said.

The Joplin tornado struck the heart of the city "and it's very dense in terms of population," Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer told CNN. He said more than 40 rescue units from Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri were coming to help.

The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader said St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin took a direct hit. KSHB-TV, Kansas City, Mo., reported fires throughout the hospital.

Nearly 200 patients had to be evacuated. Many were taken to Freeman hospital in Joplin and others were flown to other St. John's hospitals in Springfield and northwest Arkansas, KSPR-TV, Springfield reported.

X-rays from St John's were found in driveways 70 miles away, said Ray Foreman, a meteorologist with KODE-TV in Joplin.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to help deal with the disaster.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama expressed their "deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives," a White House statement said.

The president commended "the heroic efforts" of emergency responders and people who worked to help their friends and neighbors.

"At my direction, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] 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," Obama said.

Joplin High School, a Home Depot, a Walmart, a church, apartments and gas stations were among the buildings heavily damaged or destroyed.

Jerry Williams, assistant vice president at Missouri Southern State University, told the News-Leader he heard the tornado coming.

"I took my wife into a closet under the stairs," he said. "It sounded like a huge wind.

"It's been quite horrific. There are just areas that are flattened. Places are gone."

Jeff Law, 23, rode out the tornado in a friend's storm cellar. When he came out afterward, he said he didn't recognize his town.

"I didn't know where I was," Law said. "Everything was unrecognizable. It's like Armageddon."

KSHB-TV, Kansas City, Mo., reported twisters also caused damage but no apparent injuries near Higginsville and Waverly.

KSTP-TV, Minneapolis, reported a curfew was in place in Minneapolis after a tornado struck the city's north section, killing one person and injuring at least 30 others, two critically.

Dozens of natural gas lines were uprooted and Xcel Energy said more than 20,000 customers lost power.

Mayor R.T. Rybak urged gawkers to stay away from the affected neighborhoods.

"Our No. 1 concern is for the health and safety of our residents," he said. "Emergency responders have been working hard on the scene, going door to door to check on the well-being of folks in this area."

The St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported high winds trapped cars, ripped roofs off houses and broke windows across North Minneapolis. A shelter was set up at the Northeast Armory for those affected by the severe weather.

Trained spotters recorded funnel clouds and tornadoes in Brooklyn Park, Fridley, Forest Lake, Centerville, Hugo and Chisago City, the newspaper said.

WCCO-TV, Minneapolis, reported firefighters used axes and power saws to cut through fallen trees that trapped residents in their houses and apartment buildings. The station also reported damage at the Anoka County airport in Blaine, a northern suburb of Minneapolis.

The National Weather Service said twisters were reported in Juneau, Taylor, La Crosse and Monroe counties in western Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The windstorms knocked down trees in Mather, and flipped several cars, damaged billboards and broken windows in Sparta, the newspaper said. In La Crosse, a tornado blew roofs off buildings and caused serious damage to a Kmart store. Authorities were checking out a report of people possibly trapped in an apartment building, the Journal Sentinel said.

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