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Joplin hit by devastating tornado, recovery underway

The scene today near 23rd and Main St. in Joplin, Mo. following last night's tornado.
(KCUR/Dan Verbeck)
The scene today near 23rd and Main St. in Joplin, Mo. following last night's tornado.

Updated at 8:20 a.m. May 24:

According to the Missouri Department of Public Safety, 117 people are now confirmed dead. The latest information from DPS is available here.

Updated at 7:19 a.m. May 24:

Joplin Asst. City Manager Sam Anselm says rescuers found no new victims or survivors as they worked through the night. The death toll remains at 116.

So far, 17 people have been rescued from debris left across the city.

Rain and strong winds that hampered rescue efforts yesterday have stopped this morning. Forecasters say Joplin and southwest Mo. is in the path of more severe thunderstorms today and tomorrow.

Updated at 6:46 a.m. May 24:

Gov. Nixon wants a second search of every collapsed building in Joplin. But a city official says all FEMA requirements are being met, including double examinations of buildings.

More volunteers arrived overnight, including 67 fire trucks from St. Louis and 11 firefighters from Kansas City, Ks., who came down on their own time. Captain Bryan Welch, who worked in the tornado that ripped his city a few years ago said he knows how hard it is for searchers to arrive too late to help someone trapped:

"We train to do what we have to do. We know that sometimes it's not going to turn out like we'd like. We also hope to make that dramatic rescue. And we do sometimes. We are going to do everything we can to make things better for those folks that we're supposed to serve." Captain Bryan Welch.

Sam Anselm, assistant city manager said early today he expects all searches for living and dead to be done by noon. Power restoration may take weeks.

Updated at 5:24 a.m. May 24:

President Barack Obama will travel to Missouri on Sunday to meet with people affected by what he calls "devastating and heartbreaking" tornadoes. Obama says he wants Midwesterners whose lives were disrupted by the deadly storms on Sunday to know that the federal government will use all resources possible to help residents recover and rebuild.

Obama spoke in London, the second stop on his four-country, six-day tour of Europe.

Updated at 5:10 a.m. May 24:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says authorities have found another 10 people alive in the wreckage. Nixon says he fears the number killed by the storm will grow higher as search and rescue efforts continue.

Nixon told The Associated press Monday night he doesn't even want to guess how high the death toll will eventually climb, but he says: "Cleary, it's on its way up."

Updated at 5:27 p.m. May 23:

Recovery efforts are now underway in Joplin, Mo. following last night's devastating tornado, even as more storms threaten in the area.

So far, here's how things are developing:

News Updates:

  • The St. Louis chapter of the Red Cross is working to help residents in Joplin in the aftermath of last night's tornado. Spokeswoman Jessica Willingham says donations are pouring in from St. Louisans but more will be needed. And she says the chapter has deployed disaster volunteers to Joplin:

"The Red Cross is working closely with all the emergency responders and trying to make sure people are safe, that they have a safe place to stay, food and clothing but also that their emergency medical needs are met, and then we work into the mobile feeding units that are actually going out on the roads." - Jessica Willingham
Rescuers continue to search rubble in an 80 square block area.

To donate to the Red Cross call 1-800-RED- CROSS or go to RedCross.org.

  • The National Weather Service says the tornado in Joplin packed winds up to 198 mph. The weather service's director, Jack Hayes, says the storm was given a preliminary label as an EF4 - the second-highest rating given to twisters. The rating is assigned to storms based on the damage they cause. Hayes said the storm had winds of 190 to 198 miles per hour. At times, the storm was three-quarters of a mile wide. He says survey teams from the National Weather Service are on the scene and will make a final determination on the rating Tuesday.
  • Authorities in Missouri say the death toll from a tornado that struck Joplin has risen to 116. But there's good news too. Authorities say seven people have been rescued. Jay Nixon says
    he's "optimistic that there are still lives out there to be saved." The tornado tore a six-mile-long, half-mile wide path through the middle of Joplin on Sunday. Much of the city's south side was leveled, with churches, schools, businesses and homes reduced to ruins by winds of up to 165 mph. Officials have estimated 2,000 buildings were damaged. Joplin is about 160 miles south of Kansas City.
  • The federal government is offering aid to people in the Joplin area whose homes were damaged by the deadly tornado. Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that individuals with uninsured expenses - such as home repairs, the replacement of household items or temporary housing - can receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nixon says the federal government also is granting aid to Jasper and Newton counties for costs associated with debris removal and emergency protection.
  • The Missouri attorney general's office said Monday that investigators were sent to Joplin to monitor any price gouging. People who believe a business has artificially raised the prices for necessities such as gas, food and diapers can contact the attorney general's office at 1-800-392-8222 or file a complaint at www.ago.mo.gov. The attorney general's office says people who violate price-gouging laws can face penalties of up to $1,000 per violation.

On the ground:

  • Missouri Southern State University is now operating as a Red Cross triage and shelter for the Joplin area. The university was relatively undamaged by the tornado, and currently has power but is without water due to damage to sewer treatment plants. Other institutions have stepped in to aid in the emergency effort. Davidson Hall at Crowder College in Neosho,Mo. is serving as an emergency shelter, as is Ozark Christian College on North Main Street in Joplin. (via a MSSU press release)
  • The Joplin School District is canceling classes for the rest of the year after three of its schools were destroyed and others suffered tornado damage. Superintendent CJ Huff announced Monday on the district's website that district officials are concentrating on locating all students, teachers and staff members. The tornado destroyed Joplin High School, Irving Elementary School and Franklin Technology Center. Several other schools had either moderate to heavy damage. Huff says work has already begun on a plan for rebuilding.
  • At the request of the State Emergency Management Agency, today the Humane Society of Missouri is sending a fifteen-member Disaster Response Team to Joplin, Mo. to rescue and shelter affected pets. Persons displaced by the tornado who need shelter for their pets should contact the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency at their emergency location in the Recreation Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. (via a Humane Society press release)

Additional Information:

  • The tornado that destroyed a broad swath of Joplin ranks as the deadliest to hit Missouri in more than a century. The federal Storm Prediction Center says the worst tornado in Missouri's history hit St. Louis on May 27, 1896, leaving an estimated 255 people dead. The toll in Joplin exceeds those of two other major tornadoes, which also occurred in the southern tier of Missouri. In the southwestern town of Marshfield, an estimated 99 people were killed by a tornado on April 18, 1880. And on May 9, 1927, a tornado killed an estimated 98 people were killed in the southeastern city of Poplar Bluff.


Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.