The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 23, 2011

Storm’s death toll continuing to climb

JOPLIN, Mo. — The death toll from Sunday’s tornado climbed to 116 on Monday as first responders continued to pull bodies from a debris field that was three-quarters of a mile wide and six miles long.

Seventeen individuals found buried alive in the debris were rescued, including one at Home Depot, where several bodies have been recovered. The other survivors were found in the debris of residences and other commercial structures that were destroyed.

Seven of the rescued were found before 3 p.m. Monday. The others were found later Monday night as weary first responders pressed on in the dark, struggling against heavy rains and intense lightning.

Authorities said two emergency workers were struck by lightning while trying to assist in the effort on Monday. Details about their injuries were not available Monday night.

In addition to finding survivors, authorities said, it is likely that more bodies will be found and that the death toll will climb higher.

More than 1,150 people with injuries or medical conditions connected to the tornado were treated at hospitals in Joplin and across the Four-State Area.

It was the nation’s deadliest single tornado in nearly 60 years — since a June 1953 tornado in Flint, Mich., killed 116 people — and the second major tornado disaster in less than a month. Unlike the multiple storms that killed more than 300 people last month across the South, Joplin was smashed by just one exceptionally powerful twister.

The tornado also 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.

Mayor Mike Woolston urged sightseers to stay away from Joplin.

“I fear someone will die because gawkers are getting in the way of our first responders,” he said. “If you don’t live here, stay away.”

City Manager Mark Rohr, in a news conference Monday, confirmed that police were investigating some incidents of looting. Standing by his side, Gov. Jay Nixon said every effort would be made “to make sure every piece of property is protected” and that “the rule of law is maintained.”

Nixon declared a state of emergency on Sunday, dispatching 110 state troopers and 250 members of the National Guard to Joplin. Standing by are 450 troops.

Emergency personnel had made three sweeps of the debris field by Monday afternoon. Nixon said: “We’ll cover every foot of this town.”

Rohr said more than 40 emergency response agencies have sent assistance to Joplin, including an estimated 450 people.

The governor said he spoke Monday morning with President Barack Obama, who pledged his support. In his blog, the president, who was in London on Monday, stated: “The federal government stands ready to help our fellow Americans as needed.” He called on Nixon to express his condolences.

As thunder reverberated Monday afternoon through the National Guard Armory in Joplin, Nixon said this will be one of those moments in Missouri’s history that demonstrates “the strength of character that Missouri is famous for. We will rebuild this city.”

Rod Chappel, coroner of Jasper County, said a portable morgue from Texas was expected to arrive in Joplin by midnight Monday. A temporary morgue, the location of which has not been disclosed, is holding 112 bodies, he said. Of those, there are about “30 Jane and John Does,” he said.

The morgue will be manned by people who will use “visuals, DNA, dental records and X-rays to identify the deceased,” Chappel said. “We will compare what we find in the forensics with what we get from family members to individually ID the bodies.”

The process will take four to five hours for each body. The next of kin will be notified. The bodies then will be released to mortuaries.

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