Neighborhoods Leveled In 'Worst Tornado Ever To Hit Missouri'

Twenty minutes was not enough for Joplin residents to prepare for what was about to happen: Reporting from Joplin, Mo.— When the tornado hit, Staci Perry, a scrub technician at St. John's Regional Medical Center, had just left the operating

Twenty minutes was not enough for Joplin residents to prepare for what was about to happen:

Reporting from Joplin, Mo.— When the tornado hit, Staci Perry, a scrub technician at St. John's Regional Medical Center, had just left the operating room to grab a piece of equipment for a surgery in progress. An urgent announcement came over the loudspeaker: "Execute condition gray." That was the hospital's code for an impending disaster, though in drills, the command was always preceded by "Prepare for condition gray."

There was no time to prepare. As she heard the massive glass walls crack, Perry, 33, dashed back to surgery. "The pressure in everyone's ears was just tremendous," she said. A physician's assistant threw himself against the door so it wouldn't blow in and destroy the operating room. The lights went out. The wind howled.

"Literally, the hospital imploded," said Dr. Jim Riscoe, an emergency room physician at the 230-bed facility. There is an emergency plan for disasters, he said, "but they don't anticipate the emergency being the hospital."

When it was over, just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the storm had gouged a six-mile swath roughly half a mile wide in this city of 50,000. At least 116 people died, five of them hospital patients.

The apocalyptic after-images were depressingly familiar, reminiscent of those from the deadly April tornadoes in the South: rubble as far as the eye could see, cars buried under pieces of houses, trees wrenched from the ground with massive roots reaching toward the sky, columns of smoke rising from gas fires, emergency vehicles with lights flashing. And everywhere, knots of people stunned by nature's violence mourned their losses, counted their blessings and told their harrowing stories.

In torrential rain, lightning and heavy winds, rescuers went door-to-door on Monday, gingerly avoiding debris and downed power lines that ignited fires fueled by leaking gas. They pulled 17 survivors from the rubble, officials said.

Joplin officials said more than 2,000 structures were ripped apart and whole neighborhoods obliterated in what was described as the worst tornado ever to hit Missouri. Power remained out Monday on most of the city's west side. Residents were advised to boil water.

If you can help, you can send donations here:

Collecting monetary donations is the best way to help Joplin, according to Polk County Emergency Management Director Rick Lewis. After last night’s tornado that damaged or destroyed about 30 percent of the southwest Missouri town, several area organizations and churches are collecting money, food and supplies.“With money, they can feed people or do whatever they need to do,” Lewis said. “If [people] don’t know where to send donations, they can send them through [Polk County Emergency Management] to PO Box 181, Bolivar MO 65613, marked Joplin.”

Or send donations to the American Red Cross.

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