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Missouri tornadoes a national tragedy: Obama

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President Barack Obama comforts residents as he views damage from the tornado that devastated Joplin (AP)

President Barack Obama comforts residents as he views damage from the tornado that devastated Joplin (AP)

President Barack Obama meets with volunteers as he views damage from the tornado that devastated Joplin (AP)

President Barack Obama meets with volunteers as he views damage from the tornado that devastated Joplin (AP)

President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service in Joplin (AP)

President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service in Joplin (AP)

A volunteer worker looks for items to salvage from a destroyed Joplin home (AP)

A volunteer worker looks for items to salvage from a destroyed Joplin home (AP)

David Turner sorts through belongings in a house occupied by his two sisters in devastated Joplin, Missouri (AP)

David Turner sorts through belongings in a house occupied by his two sisters in devastated Joplin, Missouri (AP)

A search dog scours a pile of rubble at a devastated apartment complex in Joplin, Missouri, in the aftermath of a powerful tornado (AP)

A search dog scours a pile of rubble at a devastated apartment complex in Joplin, Missouri, in the aftermath of a powerful tornado (AP)

A woman moves a door as she looks through the rubble of her mother's home after a large tornado struck in Joplin (AP)

A woman moves a door as she looks through the rubble of her mother's home after a large tornado struck in Joplin (AP)

A woman pauses as she picks through the rubble of her mother's home in Joplin after a large tornado struck (AP)

A woman pauses as she picks through the rubble of her mother's home in Joplin after a large tornado struck (AP)

Residents of Joplin survey the damage to their homes caused by a tornado (AP)

Residents of Joplin survey the damage to their homes caused by a tornado (AP)

The damage in Joplin after a large tornado moved through much of the city (AP)

The damage in Joplin after a large tornado moved through much of the city (AP)

Damaged vehicles litter the car park of St John's Hospital in Joplin, Missouri, after the area was battered by a massive tornado (AP)

Damaged vehicles litter the car park of St John's Hospital in Joplin, Missouri, after the area was battered by a massive tornado (AP)

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President Barack Obama comforts residents as he views damage from the tornado that devastated Joplin (AP)

US President Barack Obama has described last week's devastating tornado in the city of Joplin, Missouri, where 142 people are now known to have died, as a “national tragedy”.

Visiting the city yesterday, Mr Obama said the disaster required a national response.

The tornado was one of the most destructive in US history, with winds of 200mph, and carved a swathe of destruction through the city, injuring more than 900 people.

The numbers looked increasingly bleak for families hoping for the best. Authorities raised the death toll to at least 139 and said 100 people were still missing.

If the death toll stands at 139, it would place this year's tornado deat toll at 520 and make 2011 the deadliest year since 1950.

Until now, the highest recorded death toll by the National Weather Service in a single year was 519 in 1953. There were deadlier storms before 1950, but those counts were based on estimates and not on precise figures.

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