JOPLIN, Mo., and LOS ANGELES — Search-and-rescue
teams on Monday pored through rubble and wreckage, all that was left in
many areas of Joplin, where at least 89 people have died, more than
2,000 structures have been ripped apart and whole neighborhoods have
been obliterated after a tornado carved a six-mile path through
Would-be rescuers conducted door-to-door searches,
avoiding downed power lines that had ignited fires fueled by leaking
gas. Debris was a constant danger and a barrier to search teams.
“We still believe there are people to be saved in the
rubble,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters, describing the carnage
in what is the state’s worst tornado disaster. He warned that another
storm was on the way, complicating rescue efforts.
President Obama expressed his condolences in a
telephone call to Nixon from Ireland, where Obama is visiting, the White
House said. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig
Fugate will head to Joplin to coordinate federal disaster relief, said
White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro.
Speaking on television, Nixon said it was good to
speak directly with the president and that Missouri would welcome all of
the help available.
More than 40 agencies were involved in the
search-and-rescue effort, which was racing against the arrival of the
next storm. Nixon said communications equipment was crucial in
coordinating the rescue and relief efforts, which are being complicated
by transportation difficulties. Interstate 44 was shut down, and streets
were clogged with emergency vehicles and the wreckage of buildings.
“This is a developing situation,” the governor said, “but we believe that there is a significant potential for saving lives.”
The number of deaths stood at 89, but Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Colbert-Kean told reporters that the toll was likely to rise.
“While we haven’t heard, it is expected to rise
drastically,” she said. “We don’t know how high it can go. We’re praying
it wouldn’t climb too high.”
The weather was worsening with severe thunderstorms expected, she said. “We’re waiting to see if the siren goes off again.”
It was the piercing keen of sirens that shook the
city of 50,000 at about 6 p.m. Sunday. Most agreed that the weather
warning system worked, going off about half an hour before the brunt of
the storm hit.
But the tornado was traveling so fast, Colbert-Kean
said, that the danger was on the city before most had a chance to deal
with the threat.
More than 2,000 structures were damaged, including a
major hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center. Perhaps 30 percent
of the city, about 160 miles from Kansas City, was damaged. An unknown
number of people were injured, and many were treated in makeshift
shelters in churches, Colbert-Kean said.
The roof was blown off of the hospital, and most
patients were evacuated. A local nursing home also took a direct hit,
city officials said.
The tornado that hit Joplin was one of 68 reported
across seven Midwest states, from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, over the
weekend, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction
Center. At least one person was killed in Minneapolis.
But Missouri was by far the hardest hit in a season
that has seen more than 300 people killed by tornadoes in the South last
month. The South has also been dealing with massive flooding that
killed one person and has caused billions of dollars in damage to
property and crops.
(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.
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