Tornado kills at least 89 in U.S. town

08:23, May 24, 2011      

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People dig through the rubble of a shoe store as they look for survivors in Joplin, Missouri May 22, 2011 after a tornado hit the town. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

A massive storm system Sunday night dropped a devastating tornado into Joplin, a city of 50,000 people in the southwest corner of Missouri, killing at least 89 people and leaving churches, schools, and homes reduced to ruins.

The Joplin authorities on Monday confirmed the number of known dead but warned that the toll is expected to climb as searching and rescuing continue. Besides, an unknown number of people were injured in the storm and they were scattered to the nearby hospitals.

The tornado touched down into the heart of the city near 6 p.m. on Sunday, destroying thousands of buildings. The local fire department estimated that 25-30 percent of the city was damaged, but the number of people injured in the storm was still unknown. Jasper County emergency management director estimated that 2,000 buildings were damaged.

The tornado even cut a path nearly six miles long and more than a half-mile wide in the downtown. Besides, a series of gas leaks caused fires around the city overnight.

Among the worst-hit locations in Joplin was patients-packed St. John's Regional Medical Center, which suffered a "direct hit" from tornado. The storm battered this nine-story building, blew out hundreds of windows and left the facility useless, with medical records, X-rays, insulation and other items found 60 miles away.

The city's residents were given about 20 minutes notice with tornado warning sirens before the tornado touched down on the city 's west side. But many people were unable to get to shelter in time, as "the storm was so loud you probably couldn't hear the sirens going off," said the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

The governor has declared a state of emergency and called out the Missouri National Guard to help. Authorities began a door-to- door search on Monday morning. But the task was made more difficult as a new thunderstorm with strong winds, heavy rain continued to torment part of the city.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the governor Sunday evening to "extend his condolences" to the families of Joplin. White House spokesman said Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate was on his way to Joplin to help with recovery.

The Joplin twister was one of 68 reported tornadoes across seven Midwest states over the weekend, spreading from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. The damage in Missouri was the worst of the day.

At least one person was killed in Minneapolis and a strong storm also caused significant damage in La Crosse, a city on the west of Wisconsin and there were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

A small town in Kansas was stricken by a tornado on Saturday, which killed one person and destroying at least 20 homes. In the last month, tornadoes killed more than 300 people and caused more than two billion U.S. dollars of damages to the U.S. South, killing more than 200 in Alabama alone.

Source: Xinhua

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