Utter, utter devastation and horror — Joplin, Missouri was slammed yesterday (5-22-2010) by at least 50 tornadoes that have already killed at least 89 people and destroyed countless buildings, including a hospital, and knocked out electricity and landlines. The path of destruction is more than a half-mile wide. More storms and tornadoes are expected to hit today.
Experts are saying that the magnitude of destruction caused by yesterday’s tornadoes surpasses that which was caused earlier this month in Alabama. Searches are being conducted for those who are still missing.
Only a few months ago, the Joplin area was slammed by epic blizzards that dumped more than 20 inches of snow.
“It is very rare to get a tornado like this, but it is even more rare to get a tornado like this in a highly populated area like Joplin,” said Doug Cramer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The tornado was part of a weather system in which cold and warm fronts collided throughout the middle sections of the country, meteorologists said — an event apt to spawn supercell tornadoes along the storm front like the one that struck Joplin.
Doug Stillions, 59, and his wife, Melissa Stillions, 37, said that when they heard the tornado warning siren go off Sunday they hurriedly took cover in a neighbor’s basement with their 3-year-old son.
“It was just a black wall to the west,” Mr. Stillions said. “It was dark as night.”
They said they had held hands and prayed as the tornado slammed through at thunderous volume and an accompanying pressure so intense the couple said it felt as if their heads might explode.
As the sun rose Monday, they walked out into a world in which the few trees left standing had the bark stripped off them, a house on a hillside had been swept up and carried into a road, and the Stillions’s own home had part of its roof sheared off.
The tornado scored a direct hit on St. John’s Regional Medical Center, and then appeared to stall over it for a minute or more, people inside the hospital at the time said. Portions of the hospital’s roof had been pulled apart by the winds and sections of its facade were missing.
By Monday morning, the hospital, which is a major trauma care center in the area, had moved all its patients to other facilities, said Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
But it was uncertain how many of the 183 patients who were there when the tornado struck were killed.
Ms. Scott said the hospital had a few minutes of warning and were in the process of following the hospital’s tornado plan — moving patients into hallways — when the tornado struck.
Rescue workers said nearly every patient in the hospital had been cut by glass that had been blown out of the hospital’s windows.
“It was mass chaos trying to get patients out,” said Sgt. Rodney Rodebush, 30, a National Guard soldier who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.