Hunt for survivors and bodies as tornado death toll hits 117
Rescue teams in Missouri were trying yesterday to find more trapped survivors and pull those who did not survive from the rubble of a Walmart warehouse that was destroyed by Sunday's tornado.
With more storm activity expected this morning, emergency-service crews converged on Joplin from across the region to respond to the disaster, the scale of which was still hard for some to grasp.
The most urgent searches were focused on the Walmart store, a nearby Home Depot and apartment buildings that had been severely hit.
Officials put the death toll so far at 117 — the deadliest recorded twister in the United States for more than six decades.
Late on Monday seven bodies were pulled from under one of the concrete slabs that had been part of a wall in the Walmart store. Meanwhile, 1,500 people were reported missing; phone coverage was limited.
Six of the victims died at St John's Hospital, which took a direct hit from the twister. Five of those were in the intensive care ward and on ventilators that stopped working when the tornado cut the power and knocked out emergency generators. Frantic efforts by the staff to work the ventilators by hand were in vain.
“We're hoping to find more folks, that's why we're doing these searches,” Keith Stammer, the emergency management director
of Jasper County, said at an outdoor Press conference. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said his teams would stay for “the long haul, not just for the response”. Barack Obama will visit on Sunday on his return from his European trip. About a third of Joplin had been cordoned off to keep out sightseers and allow the rescue teams — some with dogs trained to sniff out bodies — to comb through destroyed homes, offices, shops and apartment buildings. Those already searched were marked with a spraypainted X, reminding some of the searches in New Orleans neighbourhoods after Hurricane Katrina.
The horror of tornado's assault on Joplin, home to 50,000 people, was still unfolding as families searched desperately for missing loved ones and rescue workers and volunteers faced the trauma of having to dig out the victims' bodies.