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. amy

    i live n joplin...thank god my friends and family safe.. everybody we know lost their homes. me and my husband saw and heard it when we ran inside. it missed our apartment by 4 blocks...i thank everyone 4 ur thoughts prayers and helping hands. for all u f***in haters..stop hating it not helpin anybody but makin da situation worst

    May 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Emelia Kanson

    People are allowed to believe whatever they choose to believe in, from Christianity to Judaism to Islamic and more. This isn't an article about religion, it just happens to portray some of the popular religious beliefs in the South and Midwest. Rather than pointing fingers at each other as so many have been, if you're close enough to drive over, go help out. If you aren't, send a donation in a letter to the city. (I sent in $50, for example, since I'm too far.)

    May 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • WEL

      "choose to believe in"
      Choose? When did anyone have a choice as to how they were brainwashed?
      And if they are crazy, and choose crazy, how can you tell the difference?

      May 21, 2013 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joey

    A number of my friends, all tough New Yorkers, have made contributions.
    Anything one can send will help. It give you a good feeling.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sash

    I wouldnt say the tornado was GOD's punishment for anything that the residents of Joplin did, tornados are occuring in strange places. places that arent known to have them. GOD did however express that in the last days we would not known one reason from the next. This weird weather is a sign that things are going to get worse. There is a tornado going on in my home, OKC as we speak. May GOD bless the victims of the Joplin tornado, and all the others. My Heart goes out to them.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Smarthmouth

    Wow. People really think that way? That is just so sad . . . Okay – shake it off! My heart goes out to Joplin as does my admiration for all the heros who have shown up to save lives, help and comfort the wounded, search and rescue, etc.

    May 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dest18

    it was a natural disaster!! Everything else should stay at church. im tired of skepticalism!!! i am truely sorry about those yo have lost loved ones just leave them alone they have to much to worry about already

    May 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • mehmet

      For if man does not recognize God and place his trust in Him, he becomes extremely weak and impotent, needy and impoverished, a suffering, grieving and ephemeral animal, exposed to endless misfortunes. Suffering continuously the pain of separation from all the objects of love and attachment, he will ultimately abandon all of his loved ones and go alone to the darkness of the grave.

      Throughout his life, he struggles vainly, with an extremely limited will, slight power, a short lifespan and dull mind, against infinite pains and hopes. To no avail, he strives to attain innumerable desires and goals.

      Even though he is unable to bear the burden of his own being, he takes the load of the vast world onto his wretched shoulders and mind. He suffers the torment of Hell before even arriving there.

      What accomplishment of yours, what art, what perfection, what civilization, what progress, can confront this awesome silence of the grave, this crushing despair? Where can you find that true consolation that is the most urgent need of the human spirit?

      What nature, what causality, what partner ascribed by you to God, what discovery, what nationality, what false object of worship, in each of which you place so much trust and to which you attribute God's works and His sustaining bounties, which of them can deliver you from the darkness of death that you imagine to be eternal annihilation? Which of them can enable you to cross the frontiers of the grave, the boundaries of the intermediate realm, the marches of the plain of resurrection, the Bridge of Sirat? Or can bring about your eternal happiness?

      But know that most definitely you will travel on this path for you cannot close the door of the grave. And a traveller on such a path ought to rely on one whose control and command embraces all this vast sphere and its extensive boundaries.

      May 27, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. Morgan

    My heart goes out to the victims of Joplin. My brother was a victim of the Alabama tornado and it was just devistating to go through this experience. Know this in time you will be able to rebuild be thankful that you have your life because so many lost theirs on Sunday.

    May 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • lannette williams

      That was so touching, i can re-call the Alabama Tornado >>>

      May 26, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. terri

    Please, people within driving distance of Joplin STAY HOME! Do not drive over to see the damage, stay out of the way. I understand Joplin residents wanting to see their city. But you would be suprised at the number of people who will come from miles away to see the carnage. You will be in the way, in the way of rescuers, residents, clean up crews, and medical personnel. Exercise restraint!

    May 25, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. chatahmahee

    alright, yall go to great lengths to pronounce the names of foreigner towns making sure to respect and honor the name by taking the time and energy to learn the correct pronunciation but when it comes to here at home, where's the same connect? i cant believe the CNN anchor couldn't pronounce Chickasha (the story describing the 10 deadliest tornadoes mentioning the path the may 1999 tornado took) and didn't even try, oh yeah, were just okies, like we matter, yeah it's native like most of the names in our country, especially our state names

    May 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. steve-o

    Just listened to a coop. Bravo especially considering the suffering going on there. best reporting by far of what is going on on the ground there. "Closure is a tv word, for these people here, there will never be closure". Thanks AC. Finally someone who gets it.

    May 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Loren

    Those who call yourselves Christians!!! I am a pastor and I would like to beg that you behave like a person that cares and is interested in people! Christ came to save not to condemn. So, If you are a real Christian lets help these people and not debate with no action!! Just words for thought! Faith is a VERB you do it!!

    May 25, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • someguy

      Thank you, I am alarmed by the amount of senseless debate going on instead of interest in these unfortunate people. It doesn't matter whether you are Atheist, Christian, etc. What matters is that you are willing to extend your hopes and desires for these unfortunate people. There are still people trapped and in desperate need of help so pray or hope or whatever it is you can to help...just stop arguing. It makes us all look like fools.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • someguy

      By the way, just so there is no way that is mistaken as a remark towards you. I was agreeing with you and thanking you for getting the right idea.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. smallfry

    you know i live in joplin i almost lost my husband he came out with a fracture rib and some bumps and bruises. He was 4 blocks for st johns at a b-day party at a houst that is no longer standing. This is a very tragic time. our community is trying to come together to help as many people as possible. My sister in law lost her home for her and her 4 little ones. My 4 yr old nephew is afraid to go outside now. and all you can argue about is christians and political crap that bull!!!! try praying for some of those who ost their families it will take up part of your time

    May 26, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. Roger

    We all will suffer the same fate sooner or later. Some of us will go this week, some this year, but we all go, and it surely won't be more than 100 years for any of us. So, don't feel too bad for these people that suffered with this because we all get our turn.

    May 27, 2011 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. osb66

    Hey, whats up with the Red Cross? I was just catching up with the world flipping channels and saw a commercial featuring victims of one of this years greatest tragedies. It was from the RC.

    I for one am upset with the RC for taking the monies that are donated for helping people in just these horrific situations and using them for advertising. I think they should recieve their press thru the various medias who are covering the stories. We know they are there and we know there are many needs. You know, like " We have sent the money or we are just waiting for payday to get it to you. The very least youu can do is spend it where it is needed". Any reporter is always happy to tell us that the RC is there and working hard and that the only way it works is through our donations.

    May 27, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Observer1290

    Obama shut down the weather forecasting satellites that could have warned of this disaster.
    Obama is either a liar or insane.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsf2NvF2gxs

    May 30, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
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