Storm in Joplin contained a rare multi-vortex tornado; death toll rises to 122

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

JOPLIN, Mo. — The death toll from Sunday’s tornado
has risen to 122, making it the eighth-deadliest tornado in U.S.
history, the National Weather Service said.

The Joplin twister was upgraded to EF-5, the
strongest category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds exceeding
200 mph. The storm was apparently a “multi-vortex” tornado, with two or
more small and intense centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel, a
rare occurrence.

It’s the country’s deadliest storm since 1950.

The number of those still missing isn’t known because
many have left Joplin to stay with relatives and friends. Rescue
workers on Tuesday were able to save two more people from the wreckage,
bringing the total to nine, even as they braced for more storms Tuesday
night.

In Kansas, two people were killed when a tree was blown into their van near St. John northwest of Wichita.

Most of Missouri and Kansas was under severe storm
watches and warnings most of Tuesday. The Kansas City area was buffeted
by 1-inch hail and 60 mph wind Tuesday night, and Joplin was under
another tornado warning.

Authorities in Joplin plan to continue their searches Wednesday, even as hope starts to dim for those seeking their loved ones.

About 750 people have been treated at regional
hospitals. Among the injured is Jeff Taylor, a Riverside, Mo., police
officer hurt during a lightning strike on Monday. Taylor, who was in
Joplin to help with searches, was in critical condition at a
Springfield, Mo., hospital.

Two days after the storm, more information emerged about those who had been lost:

—Eleven of the victims came from Joplin’s Greenbriar
nursing home, which was flattened. Ten were residents, one was a staff
member. Two other workers were in critical condition on Tuesday.

“The problem we had was the fact that the building
took an absolute direct hit. It destroyed the building,” said Bill
Mitchell, senior vice president for the company that operates
Greenbriar. Only one wall was left standing.

—At least seven bodies have been found at the Home
Depot. Rescuers were trying to break through the concrete so search dogs
could smell for people. A store employee killed in the storm reportedly
died trying to help save others in the store.

“His co-workers view him as a hero,” said Craig
Fishel, a Home Depot spokesman. “He was very well loved by everyone who
worked with him.” The company donated $1 million to the rebuilding of
Joplin.

—Three bodies were found at the Elks Lodge, which had been preparing for bingo night when the tornado struck.

“If that had been two hours later, there could have
been 40 or 50 people in there,” said Chris Moreno, a hospital lab
technician coordinating an outdoor triage center.

Friends of Will Norton, a teenager who disappeared
driving home from his high-school graduation, have used Facebook and
Twitter to bring attention to his case. His Hummer H3 rolled several
times, and Norton was apparently thrown from the vehicle. His father was
hospitalized, but the younger Norton hasn’t been seen since.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday
approved $1 billion in emergency disaster assistance to help the
tornado-devastated region around Joplin in case relief coffers run out
before the end of the fiscal year in September.

The relief package still must be passed by the full House and then the Senate.

The Storm Prediction Center had warned since the
weekend that strong, long-lived tornadoes could hit Oklahoma and
adjacent parts of Kansas and Texas.

Earlier in the day in Meanwhile in Joplin, residents continued to pick through debris and search for loved ones.

As Kay Harlin helped a friend go through the ruins of
her home, she was happy to see rescuers doing another thorough search
for survivors.

“They found people after the earthquakes days after,” she said hopefully.

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