Stories from the storm: Fear, tears, prayers silenced by tornado destruction
"Everything was unrecognizable. Completely unrecognizable," one Joplin, Missouri, resident said.
May 23rd, 2011
02:42 PM ET

Stories from the storm: Fear, tears, prayers silenced by tornado destruction

[Updated at 3:27 p.m. ET Tuesday] At least 118 people died from a tornado that tore through Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said.

Here's what some of the survivors experienced:

Jeremy Cooper - 'We are so, so lucky'

The tornado hit a short distance from the house that Jeremy Cooper of Joplin, Missouri, shares with his family. "It started on 10th Street and I live on 7th Street," he said.

Cooper said sirens alerted him to what was in store - but not really.

"I could hear the tornado," he said. "When the first siren went off, 'cause it went off twice, you could hear in the air, the wind like a train."

"We just covered up in the basement real quick," he said.

The churning winds quickly died down, only to be replaced by another sound, Cooper said.

"I came back up, the weather had stopped being so crazy around our house. The police sirens just started going crazy, all the power was out in town."

Theresa Campbell - Tulsa resident was visiting friends in Joplin

Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident Theresa Campbell was visiting friends in Joplin when the twister tore through the area.

She took photos of the destruction around Joplin High School, which "was demolished," she said.

"The photos, while quite graphic, do not show the devastation that this town is feeling," Campbell said.

"Many families displaced. Many businesses and lives lost. It's truly heart wrenching."

Tussiona Mikell - Split-second, ceiling collapse and prayer saved me

Tussiona Mikell was at the cashier's register inside a Dollar Tree in Joplin, Missouri, when a friend called her to tell her a storm was approaching.

Mikell and five others waited out the storm in the cooler.

"We could just hear things caving in but we couldn't see what was going on," she told CNN. "There was a lot of calling on Jesus. People were crying, saying different things. I was calling out 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.'"

Finally, after about 45 minutes, the group tried to make their way out of cooler. But it wouldn't budge.

"The ceiling fell down and blocked the freezer," Mikell recalled. "Everyone was trying to push to get (the door) cracked open. But we couldn't get it wide enough to get us out."

The group all tried pulling out their cell phones - but couldn't call for help. They had no service.

Then, the smell of gas started to pour into the freezer, Mikell said. The group feared the stores gas line had broken.

With the walls of the store mostly destroyed around them, they were able to see through the crack they had made in the freezer and shouted to a passerby for help.

"Everything else around was destroyed," she said. "We were hollering, 'Help, help, we're stuck.'"

That's when Mikell heard about the massive damage and injuries at Walmart.

"There was so much debris," Mikell said, recalling what she first saw when she stepped outside. "When I came out, everything was demolished. It's unbelievable."

Read the rest of Mikell's story

Jennifer Parr  - 'I just barely made it out of town'

Jennifer Parr, 30, a student in Joplin, Missouri, knew the tornado was coming so she got her dog and got into her car to drive as far way as she could.

"(I) made a last minute decision to get my dog and myself in my car and drive out of town when the storm/tornado hit," she told CNN's iReport. "I just barely made it out of town as the tornado was plowing through."

Monday morning, as she came back to see what was left behind and what was destroyed, she saw her house was gone.

What she saw around town - and took pictures of - when she returned was shocking. Near the St. John's Regional Medical Center parking lot and on Maiden Lane and 26th Street little besides debris remained.

Zach Tusinger - “Everybody’s going to know people who are dead”

Zach Tusinger, 26, an attorney in Joplin, Missouri, lost his aunt and uncle in the tornado. They lived five blocks from St. John's Regional Medical Center.

Tusinger heard the noise of a freight train from his parents' house but there wasn't enough room in the garage for his car, so he took off to his loft on the other side of town. On top of the same loft rooftop he took a picture of Irving Elementary School that he sent to CNN iReport - which is now destroyed.

"The school was gone. There’s a Catholic church just to the west that was leveled," he said.

He posted the picture on Facebook - but he had no idea it would serve as a warning to his family and elicit their last words to him in response.

“My aunt was a pretty avid Facebooker and she posted about the time I was taking the picture … she posted, ‘Oh my god’ on Facebook," he said. "It's crazy because those are her last words."

“Everybody’s going to know people who are dead,” he said. “You could have probably dropped a nuclear bomb on the town and I don't think it would have done near as much damage as it did.”

Ryan Atkinson - Documenting other damage, waiting to see his own

Ryan Atkinson, a sports writer for the Joplin Globe, was at work when the tornado hit Sunday.

He and another reporter ventured over to St. John's Regional Medical Center within an hour of the tornado and were shocked to see the devastation. In the video he sent to CNN iReport, you can see hundreds of damaged homes across the street from the hospital.

“I was in disbelief. I’ve lived in this area of Midwest my whole life. You grow up with tornado warnings and confirmed funnel touchdowns all the time, but this time it struck home," Atkinson said. "We were just expecting some damage, maybe some trees down, but when we drove up on that area, it was just shock.”

Atkinson hadn't seen his home yet, but his parents checked on it and told him that the roof is gone and it’s not habitable. He was preparing to go to his house to see it for the first time.

Eddie Atwood - 'The whole horizon got flattened'

Eddie Atwood, 46, a freelance photographer and iReporter who lives on the north side of Joplin, said it all began with a lot of wind and hail.

“I just barely missed being right in the path of that tornado, like minutes from being there," he told CNN.

Atwood said it started looking so bad that he almost took refuge in a car wash.

"I decided not to, and it was a real good thing because (the tornado) just tore it up,” he said.

"There were power lines down all over the place ... You could smell fuel and natural gas, there were fires starting all over the place, they [the National Guard] were trying to get everyone out," Atwood said. "You couldn’t (have) picked a worse part of town. It cut right through where the hospital was, and houses after houses, apartments - it couldn’t have picked a worse place."

On Monday Atwood and a friend went to see the damage. As he walked along one road he could see exactly how the storm destroyed an entire area.

"I was walking down Main Street; everything was so razed over, it was disorienting because some of the streets you couldn’t even tell where you were at. After living in Joplin all my life, it was like living in the Twilight Zone."

Debris was everywhere, he said - except for a lone flying American flag.

"It just looks like a war zone. The whole horizon got flattened," he said. "It was a really tragic day. I’ve been here all my life. We’ve had some bad storms, but nothing like this. It’s taken a significant toll on Joplin."

The Rev. C.J. Campbell - House collapsed around me in '60 seconds'

The Rev. C.J. Campbell was at home with his foster sister when the tornado, which he describes as an "evil monster vortex," hit his home at 5:55 p.m. CT.

"My foster sister and I were completely surrounded by a collapsed 1,800 square feet house within 60 seconds," he told CNN.

Campbell described those moments as he experienced the tornado ravage his home:

"First began the low roar in the distance, and then it got louder and louder until it sounded like 50 semi tractor-trailer trucks going 70 mph about 10 feet outside the front door. The floor began to vibrate and then shake very violently and then seemingly buckle."

"We thought we were going to be sucked up the chimney," he said.

Despite the fear as it happened, and his emotions after seeing the home destroyed, Campbell walked away with a positive attitude.

"I feel grateful to be able to talk to you," he said.

Isaac Duncan - Huddled in store cooler, prayers are silenced by storm

Isaac Duncan was nearby in Carl Junction, Missouri, when he heard reports that the tornado was literally around the block. So he and a friend ran into the closest place they could find - a convenience store.

"When we went in the electricity was already out there and were about 20 people huddled down," Duncan told CNN. "Everyone was just deciding what to do."

Video shot inside the fridge shows little - it is dark and hard to see - but the screams and shrieking pleas for "Jesus, Jesus," "heavenly father," and "help" can be heard.

The tornado ripped through the store - and even part of the refrigerator.

"Basically the only thing left standing was the cooler that we were in," Duncan said. "Everything around it was gone. (The tornado) actually tore a few holes in the refrigerator. That's what we crawled out of."

Sara Ferguson - 'The houses are all gone'

Sara Ferguson was near Joplin's St. John's Regional Medical Center after the storm hit.

“The houses are all gone. The medical buildings are gone,” she told The Joplin Globe. “(St. John’s hospital’s) windows have all been blown out. It was horrible. I couldn’t even take pictures on my phone. I was crying.”

Denise Neil and Jaime Green - "I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be happening.’”

Denise Neil and Jaime Green, a reporter and photographer for the Wichita Eagle, were driving along with Neil's 6-year-old daughter Lexi near the medical center when the storm hit.

"The rain was going in circles. The roofs of buildings were coming off," Neil said in a Eagle report. They pulled off the road and took cover in a carport of a medical building, according to the report.

“I was watching power lines come down and exploding as they hit the ground,” Neil was quoted as saying. “Jaime could see the roof above us start to go, but it never went. Jaime kept saying, ‘I’m scared.’ Lexi kept asking, ‘What’s happening?’ I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be happening.’”

Jeff Law - 'It's like Armageddon'
For many, the destruction was unimaginable.
Joplin resident Jeff Law gave this description to the Springfield News Leader.

"I've lived in this neighborhood my entire life, and I didn't know where I was. Everything was unrecognizable. Completely unrecognizable. It's like Armageddon," Law said.

The Wal-mart in Joplin was ripped apart.

“All of a sudden there was a big whoosh, and the ceiling started falling,” Justin Schlesselman, a security guard at the store, told the Globe. “People were freaking out and screaming for help.”

Schlesselman said he and other employees and customers freed those trapped by debris and left the wreckage of the store.

"I don’t know how many got out. I just know that everyone in our area did," he told the Globe.

Globe reporter Jeff Lehr told CNN affiliate KMBC-TV that he took shelter in a basement closet at the storm roared through.

"You could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody's house. I came outside and there was nothing left," KMBC quoted him as saying.

"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."

soundoff (273 Responses)
  1. Bernie232323

    This tornado killed over a hundred people, destroyed a church, destroyed a hospital, and destroyed a bunch of houses. How do people still have the ignorance to believe in god? I feel very sorry for the people who died, and the people who believe in religion

    May 24, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. mon'sha

    i'm here n tuscaloosa alabama also n yes we have n still enduring alot from the tornado that hit us last month. i hear all the prayers n i hate messages to the i don't believe ones. weather we believe n God r not the fact is these things r taking place. believe in who r what u want 2 i trust ur soul rest peaceful n the end knowing u made a difference in and 4 sum1 else. i am only responsible 4 myself my only hope whenever itz my time 2 go sum1 can say i made a difference.

    May 24, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. clepto

    I went to help my dad yesterday...i was able to drive around a bit and take some photos.
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150183283866891.305500.692886890

    May 24, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. gingersrule1

    If I heard someone screaming Jesus next to me hunkered down in a tornado I would hit them and run out into the twister. People should realize that there's nothing wrong with praying in silence because I don't want my last thoughts to be wishing you'd shutup. Take me God and please don't leave me with this praying idiot.

    May 24, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • granny

      Those praying to Jesus only echoed what everyone else was thinking. There were no athiests in the coolers or closets. Just ask for one to speak up.

      May 30, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Skadams

    So sad. Prayers for all the victims of this awful tragedy. Entire towns wiped out, hundreds dead or missing. But don't worry, your president will see to you on Sunday, his kinda busy hobbnobbing with the Queen of England right now. That's more important. This is Obama's Katrina. Who in the press will call him on it? Anybody?... Anybody?......

    May 24, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. sunshinehappyface

    It helps a soul to have faith in something greater than ones self. It's not a spaghetti monster, an invisible wizard or a fairytale King, but a living awesome God. There is no "why" to explain something like this, it just happened. People should be able to hope in who they wish without being ridiculed.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • UMeat

      Wish for whatever you want, but keep it out of government.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Laura

    I'm stunned by the callousness and in sensitivity I see here, shame on those of you making this a political and religious issue. I grew up in Joplin and my 3 year-old daughter and family survived the storm... there are so many people I know who have lost EVERYTHING and you say horrible things and laugh at their situation... there are hundreds missing and dead, imagine if it was your child, your family! A hospital was leveled, my old high school is gone, it's a tragedy not fodder for your stupid and twisted ideals. So if you have nothing encouraging to say, shut your mouths, or HELP US. It is bad here and very much needed.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mister Fids

      Take heart Laura, those callous people will have "roofs fall on them someday" and when they do the comments like they are famous for spewing will hit them like a ton of bricks. You see it is those who are the weakest of spine who offer the garbage, they will come to know tragedy before their days are done, you can be certain of that, and if they don't have the guts for what has happened imagine how weak they will be when it is their turn to suffer.
      They just don't have enough life experience to understand that when you heave trouble on another human, it always comes back to bite you worse & when you can deal with it the least.
      The lesson will be learned, you just won't be aware of it and how much it took out of them.
      Move forward, forget about them & their callousness, you are above that level of function....AND you have your LIFE, a new one...choose to live it better than the one you just left behind, don't let them drag you back into their dark & senseless world of shallowness!
      God has already blessed you, may he continue to do so for the rest of your days here.

      May 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • cb1111

      unfortunately the blogs bring out the idiots. It may be best to take a time out from the news. The Country is with you and people are praying for you all and trying to help. The news media already have a links for the Red Cross.

      May 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Showmestate

    Man this ticks me off! "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that if Congress passes an emergency spending bill to help Missouri's tornado victims, the extra money will have to be cut from somewhere else" We are being thrown under the bus AGAIN,! I'll never vote GOP again. http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/inside-politics/2011/may/23/cantor-learns-delays-lesson-disaster-spending/

    May 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skadams

      I don't believe you ever voted with the GOP otherwise you would know that we are in extreme debt thanks to Obama and his massive spending since he took office. Obama took the excuse of bailouts to pay off his supporters for 2008 in the tune of 2 trillion and has not enforced their back taxes of 750 million. Face it, the tornado disaster victims are not important to Him. He won't be able to break away from his latest vaca until Sunday to visit the disaster area. Shows how much he really cares.

      May 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • GulfCoast

      Skadams, most people could care less about your spin. The facts are 2 unfunded wars, unfunded Medicare Advantage and a host of other crap. You and your pretty boys may as well run along because sane folks KNOW who is fighting to keep big oil and other big corps feeding off the tax payer teat. You are next to nothing and aren't worth the toenail one good Joplin Mo. citizen.

      May 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brittany Joplin mother

    8 of my closest family friends have lost there homes but thank god not there lives. I live 9 blocks from St.Johns hospital and was hiding in a hall way with my 15 month old daughter wondering if I would ever get to speak to my mother again who is 2000 miles away and my phone did not have service. I cannot believe the way some people on here are saying that we had this devistation due to a lack of faith its rediculous we live in the bible belt for christ sake.

    May 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GulfCoastStates

    Thanks Republicans. "GOP cut crucial weather satellites with fierce hurricane season looming." Hey Mo., did you know your congressman cut the tornado warning system funds?
    http://climateprogress.org/2011/05/23/gop-cut-crucial-weather-satellites-with-fierce-hurricane-season-looming/

    May 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tiffany

    Disgusting. Every time there is a blog we have trolls and people who just don't give a sh++ about others and post the same.
    You know CNN you can stop people from cursing on here so why can't you ban the trolls???
    Question is cnn.com/impact the right website where I can text a donation??
    Thanks to those that answer

    May 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Anna

    It always seems that when one bad thing happens, it has a domino effect as to which more bad things follow. It seems that no matter how hard you try the waters only get deeper, but hold your heads high. Thru this destruction you will find hope, and thru this tragedy you will find peace. You may not see an end to this right now, it may not even be tomorrow but in its own time you will find that God didnt put you thru this to be destructive but for you to look to him, for you to only be closer to him. I have went thru my closets, donated many items to help, but I am only one. But if I am that only one that reaches my hand then at my finger tips I pray that I have some one reaching back that needs my help. I can not change what has happened to your city but 100's of miles away know that everyday I pray for you city to be rebuilt, your families to find one another and for each one of you to peace with what has happened. And tho I do not know any of you by name my heart breaks that you have felt this, that your lives have been turned upside down. Remember that you're never alone that in my heart I remember you all always, that when you feel down about things that have happened look to the skies and there you will see the same one that I see, then you will remember God loves both you and me.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Donna :))**

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you Joplin. This is when everyone is tested on compassion, faith and lending a helping hand!...not adding insult to injury. Mother nature see's no bounds so you need to be ready for her!....WHICH is sometimes NOT easy to do...

    May 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Donna :))**

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you Joplin an surrounding areas & Mississippi residents. This is when our faith, compassion and lending a helping hand is being tested!...not adding insult to injury. Mother nuture is going to do whatever she wants...we just need to be ready for her..the need for better weather warning system's is vital...at least in miss. they were forwarned to get to high ground..you can't do that with a twister.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Donna :))**

    opps didn't mean to post twice.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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