Tornado kills 116, leaves massive devastation in Midwest town in U.S.

08:34, May 25, 2011      

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Photo taken on May 23, 2011 shows the block damaged by tornado in Joplin, Missouri, the United States. 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 116 people and leaving churches, schools, and homes reduced to ruins. (Xinhua/Zhang Baoping)

At least 116 people were killed as of Monday evening, while thousands more remained homeless when a tornado hit the southwest Missouri town of Joplin on Sunday.

It's the single deadliest tornado to hit one town in the United States since 1953, according to the National Weather Service.

Street block after street block, this town of about 50,000 people looked like a scene from a disaster movie and a horror flick combined, with houses crushed like playthings, huge trees uprooted from the ground and streets covered with every imaginable debris.

Xinhua reporters came close to one of the worst-hit areas next to St. John's Regional Medical Center. The multi-story building looked like it was hit by a bomb. Its windows shattered all around.

The residential area next to a hospital was completely flattened and rows of destroyed houses were left abandoned as if in a war-torn country.

In one street corner, a roof of a house was cut in half. Nearby, several cars were crumpled and electric wires were strewn in the street.

On Monday evening, lightning and thunderstorms continued thus hampering the rescue and recovery effort. It has been reported that at least two rescuers were hurt when lightning struck.

"We're going to cover every foot of this town," Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was quoted by CNN as saying during a visit to the National Guard Armory in Joplin. "We are ... optimistic that there are still lives to be saved. But (first responders) have seen a tremendous amount of pain already."

President Barack Obama, who is on an official trip to Europe, has spoken to Governor Nixon, according to the White House.

At Joplin's Missouri Southern State University, where over 100 people were temporarily housed, Larry Daniel told Xinhua that he barely survived the tornado that struck the nursing home where he lived. At least 14 other seniors were killed after being buried by wood and concrete from the collapsed building, according to Daniel.

"I am just happy to be alive," Daniel said. "I thought I was gonna die." Daniel, who showed signs of bruises in face and arms, said he "crawled his way" from the debris.

David James, a Red Cross volunteer told Xinhua he was working at the local Target department store when the town's alarm system went off for the tornado. There was not enough time to prepare and all they had to do was to huddle at one corner of the store, James said.

At a Holiday Inn, a hotel attendant said it was a miracle that her four-year old grandchild was found alive a mile away from their house.

Back at Missouri Southern, Quinn Gardner of the AmeriCorps volunteer group told Xinhua it is still too early to predict the total number of casualties, saying that hundreds are still being reported missing.

Meanwhile, Angela Statton-Hunt, a Red Cross coordinator, said at least 3,000 volunteers have signed up for the rescue and recovery effort, as well as the humanitarian work at the evacuation centers. About 3,600 beds have been made available at Missouri Southern.

In between sobs, Statton-Hunt recalled seeing the devastation immediately after the tornado struck.

"I've had several friends that are personally affected," she said. One friend's house was completely destroyed, another's son was finally found being treated at hospital.

At the same time, Statton-Hunt praised the survivors for trying to cope with the situation.

"I am absolutely amazed at the strength of the people that have come in here," she said. "Many of them have lost loved ones and they can't find loved ones. They are missing. And they've lost their homes completely. They are so strong. They are really amazing people."

The Joplin twister was one of the 68 reported tornadoes across seven Midwest states over the May 21-22 weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

According to media reports, it is a separate system from the storm that killed one person in eastern Kansas. A tornado also hit Minneapolis, claiming one fatality.

Already, the 2011 tornado season is the ninth deadliest on record. In April alone, 139 people were killed in three separate towns in Alabama. Over 100 others were killed in neighboring southern states.

In June 1953, the town of Flint, Michigan, was hit by a deadly tornado that killed 116 people.

Source: Xinhua

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