WEATHER

Missouri tornado: At least 116 dead, officials say

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JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Tornadoes ripped through parts of the Midwest on Sunday, killing at least one person in Minneapolis and an unknown number of others in Missouri, where a massive twister flattened a large area of one city and heavily damaged a hospital.

Emergency personnel walk through a neighborhood severely damaged by a tornado near the Joplin Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., Sunday, May 22, 2011. A large tornado moved through much of the city, damaging a hospital and hundreds of homes and businesses. (Mark Schiefelbein)

Damage was widespread across part of the southwest Missouri city of Joplin. John Campbell, operations director for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, confirmed fatalities have been reported, but he did not yet have an exact number or specifics.

Phone communications in and out of the city of about 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City were largely cut off.

St. John Regional Medical Center was evacuating nearly 100 patients after the hospital took a direct hit from the tornado, said Cora Scott, a spokeswoman at the hospital's sister facility. The patients were being taken to other hospitals.
Witnesses said windows were blown out on the top floors of the hospital.

Scott said she did not yet have any confirmation of deaths or injuries at the hospital. The Springfield hospital was sending ambulances and other resources to Joplin to help the response.

The storm was part of a series that battered the Midwest on Sunday night.

Tornado warnings and watches were posted from Texas to Michigan.

Jeff Lehr, a reporter for the Joplin Globe, said he was upstairs in his home when the storm hit but was able to make his way to a basement closet.

"There was a loud huffing noise, my windows started popping. I had to get downstairs, glass was flying. I opened a closet and pulled myself into it," he said. "Then you could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody's house. I came outside and there was nothing left."

He said people were walking around the streets outside trying to check on neighbors, but in many cases there were no homes to check.

"There were people wandering the streets, all mud covered," he said. "I'm talking to them, asking if they knew where their family is. Some of them didn't know, and weren't sure where they were. All the street markers were gone."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. Nixon said the state and low law enforcement agencies were coordinating search and rescue and recovery operations.

In Minneapolis, city spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the death was confirmed by the Hennepin County medical examiner. She had no other immediate details. Only two of the 29 people injured there were hurt critically.

In Wisconsin, a powerful storm caused significant damage in La Crosse, tearing roofs from homes and sending emergency responders to search damaged buildings for anyone trapped inside, officials said. La Crosse County sheriff's dispatcher Tim Vogel described the damage as "significant" but told The Associated Press there were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Those storms followed a tornado Saturday night that swept through a small eastern Kansas town, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes, as severe thunderstorms pelted the region with hail that some residents described as the size of baseballs, authorities said Sunday.

Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson identified the victim as Don Chesmore, 53, of Reading. He was in a mobile home that flipped. He was taken to a hospital in Emporia, where he was pronounced dead.

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