Multiple Deaths Reported, as Monster Tornado Slams Joplin, Missouri

By: From CBS News
By: From CBS News

JOPLIN, Missouri (CBS/AP) — Tornadoes ripped through parts of the Midwest on Sunday, killing at least one person in Minneapolis and an unknown number of others in a Missouri town where a hospital was hit.

Damage was widespread across the south side 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.

Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer said the St. John's Regional Medical Center on the city's south side took a "direct hit." Witnesses said windows were blown out on the top floors of the hospital.

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 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."

St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin was evacuating nearly 100 patients after the hospital took a direct hit from a tornado early Sunday evening. A spokeswoman for the medical center's sister hospital in Springfield said that facility was preparing to receive several patients from the Joplin hospital.

Cora Scott says many of the patients were being taken to Freeman Hospital in Joplin, while others will be flown to Springfield and a
hospital in Arkansas as soon as it's safe to fly. Scott says she doesn't 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 deadly tornado that hit southwest Missouri has caused ``significant damage'' to at least four school buildings in the Joplin School District. Assistant superintendent Angie Besendorfer says school will be canceled Monday and probably for the next several days.

She says the twister damaged Joplin High, Cecil Floyd Elementary, Franklin Technology Center and the central office building. Some of the schools that escaped damage are being opened as shelters.

The high school graduation was held at Missouri Southern State University in the afternoon. Many people barely got home before the
twister hit.

Those storms followed a tornado Saturday night that swept through the small eastern Kansas town of Reading in Lyon County, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes. 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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