Death toll in Missouri rises to 116; 7 rescued

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - A massive tornado that tore a six-mile path
across southwestern Missouri killed at least 116 people as it
smashed the city of Joplin, ripping into a hospital, crushing cars
and leaving behind only splintered tree trunks where entire
neighborhoods once stood.

City Manager Mark Rohr announced the new death toll Monday
afternoon. He said seven people had been rescued, and search and
rescue efforts were still going on.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he was "optimistic that there are still
lives out there to be saved."

The rescuers' work has been made more difficult by downed power
lines, jagged debris, blocked roads and a thunderstorm that brought
strong winds, heavy rain and hail early Monday. Crews found bodies
in vehicles the storm had flipped over, torn apart and left crushed
like empty cans. Triage centers and temporary shelters quickly
filled to capacity. At Memorial Hall, a downtown entertainment
venue, emergency workers treated critically injured patients.

Officials have estimated that 2,000 buildings were damaged.
Among the hardest-hit was St. John's Regional Medical Center, where a doctor said at least four people were killed. Staff members had hustled patients into hallways before the storm struck the
nine-story building. The winds blew out hundreds of windows and
left the facility virtually useless.

Dr. Jim Roscoe said he didn't know whether those killed were
staff or patients. He said colleagues who were injured worked all
night long.

An unknown number of people were injured, and officials said
patients were sent to any nearby hospitals that could take them.

Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles estimated the damage covered a
quarter or more of Joplin, a city of about 50,000 people some 160
miles south of Kansas City. He said his home was among those
destroyed.

Police officers staffed virtually every major intersection as
ambulances screamed through the streets. Survivors picked through
the rubble of their homes, salvaging clothes, furniture, family
photos and financial records, the air pungent with the smell of gas
and smoking embers.

Some neighborhoods were completely flattened and the leaves
stripped from trees, giving the landscape an apocalyptic aura. In
others where structures still stood, families found their
belongings jumbled as if someone had picked up their homes and
shaken them.

Kelley Fritz, 45, of Joplin, rummaged through the remains of a
storage building with her husband, Jimmy. They quickly realized
they would never find the belongings they stored there or much of
what was in their home after the tornado ripped away the roof.
Their sons, ages 20 and 17, both Eagle Scouts, ventured outside
after the storm.

"My sons had deceased children in their arms when they came
back," Fritz said. "My husband and I went out and saw two or
three dead bodies on the ground."

The Joplin twister was one of 68 tornadoes reported across seven
Midwestern states over the weekend, according to the National
Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. One person was killed in
Minneapolis. But the devastation in Missouri was the worst, eerily
reminiscent of the tornadoes that killed more than 300 people
across the South last month.

The National 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 mph, and at times, it was three-quarters of a mile wide.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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