Storm leaves 116 dead in a single American town

Doctors and nurses at the main hospital in the US town of Joplin, Missouri, had just minutes to rush patients away from windows and outside walls before it was ravaged by a massive tornado that ripped a wide path through, leaving at least 116 people dead and countless more injured. Officials said the death toll was expected to rise.

"I've heard people talk about being in tornadoes and saying it felt like the building was breathing," Rod Pace, a manager at the ruined nine-storey hospital said. "It was just like that."

He held on to double doors fitted with magnets to keep them closed at up to 100lbs of pressure. They flew open anyway, tossing him into a hallway. With its windows blown in and its car park resembling a scrapyard the hospital was a ruin yesterday. X-rays were found 70 miles away. The devastation elsewhere in Joplin was even more alarming. Shopping complexes, churches, schools had been crushed or badly damaged.

It's never easy to comprehend what destruction a strong tornado can wreak. They strip bark from trees. "You see pictures of the Second World War, the devastation with the bombing. That's really what it looked like," said Kerry Sanchetta, the headmaster of the town's demolished high school. "I couldn't even make out the side of the building."

One resident, Tom Rogers, said his house had been destroyed. "We heard the tornado sirens. All of a sudden, everything came crashing down on us. We pulled our heads up and there was nothing. It was gone," he told The Joplin Globe.

Melodee Colbert-Kean, a Joplin councilwoman who serves as vice mayor, said: "It is just utter devastation anywhere you look to the south and the east – businesses, apartment complexes, houses, cars, trees, schools: you name it, it is levelled."

As more rain fell on the town, tales of heartbreaking loss and of survival were exchanged. Rescue workers reported finding bodies in cars around the town that had been picked up and dumped by the twister. Others perished in homes shattered by the wind.

Survivors told of split-second decisions that saved their lives, like Jeff Lehr, a reporter for The Joplin Globe, who had to abandon a cat that wouldn't come out from under his bed and sprint to the basement of his apartment building, or Isaac Duncan who fled into the cold storage room of a petrol station shop.

"There was an awful, pulsing, hectoring noise outdoors before the windows began imploding, and flying glass forced me to the stairs without him [the cat]," Mr Lehr said. "I literally slid down them as something wooden shot past me, and a large chunk of insulation from who knows where slapped my face."

Mr Duncan and a friend found themselves crammed into the shop's cooler with about 20 strangers. The sound of their terror and of the tornado passing overhead was captured by Mr Duncan's mobile phone and yesterday was playing on cable news stations around the world. "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," one woman is heard groaning.

"We all just jumped in the cooler," Mr Duncan told CNN. "There was glass everywhere, most of the people got cut pretty bad."

When the roar was gone they came out. "The only thing that was left standing was the cooler that we were in – everything that was around it was gone."

Another man told a reporter that downstairs in his house he thought the end had come when the floor started to buckle under his feet.

"We thought we were going to be sucked up the chimney," he said.

It is a tornado season that has already entered the history books. The terrible storm that struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last month killed 236 people. So far this year, 453 people have died in tornadoes across the US.

With winds in excess of 200mph, the Joplin twister gouged a path that was a mile wide and six miles long. It was survivable only for those inside the sturdiest of structures. And then there is the peril of debris flying through the air – planks, bricks, cars, whole lorries. As well as the dead, there were hundreds with injuries yesterday.

Officials said that a quarter of the town was heavily damaged and 2,000 buildings strafed by its winds. The hospital, St John's Regional Medical Centre, was wrecked in under a minute. As the door-to-door search for survivors continued, the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon warned that the final death toll was likely to rise. "I don't think we're done counting," he told the Associated Press.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn