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. Kay

    I live in Pittsburg, KS and about 20 miles from Joplin and it has still not set in. I have family over there and they found one of my cousins under heavy rubble but alive so that is a blessing. Our hearts and prayers go to the families with loved ones lost and gone. I am actually going over there today after work to help out. I feel its my duty as a human being, and I know others are going too. They need our prayers, and hopefully we can get a break from these storms. A second storm system is headed this way.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ulises

    OHHH Man Hurricane season aint that far away ayyyyy

    May 23, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Michelle

    I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and we just had a devastating tornado almost exactly a month ago. Trust me when I say that it is truly life changing when this happens.

    Right now people in Missouri need medical attention, supplies, manual labor, and compassion. Don't judge people whose homes and businesses are destroyed and who have been injured or have lost their lives. When these things happen there is nothing you can do except hope for the best.

    Don't blame people for living in a place where there are tornadoes, or hurricanes, or floods. The places that don't have these usually have volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, wildfires, drought, landslides. There is also urban pollution, disease, and violence. Nowhere is completely safe to live in. Wherever people live, they just have to take their chances and hope that they will be ok.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Cranky

      Most of the suburban and rural areas of the north east don't have any of this. Each winter, you get buried with some snow, but that only lasts a day or two before everything's back to normal.

      May 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nc

      No, cranky, you have people who are buried under avalanches, drive off of slick bridges, go off the road and freeze to death in your cars, etc.

      AND tornadoes are hitting Minneapolis – they have hit near Boston, etc – look it up. It's just not Tornado alley, anymore. Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas get MORE tornadoes, but other places get them also.

      Oklahoma also sits on a earthquake fault line, too.

      Bad stuff is everyplace.

      May 23, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DD

    Thinking of all of you dealing with this & every other weather tragedy in recent years. But listen, that's all it is, weather. We call it bad because it sometimes affects dense populated areas & hurts people & animals. It has happened before & unfortunately will keep happening. The best thing you can do is be prepared for it, if you must live in those areas. I'm not immune either, hurricane danger here. But we are prepared for any emergency.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric of Reseda

      "Rev. C.J. Campbell was at home with his foster sister when the tornado, which he describes as an "evil monster vortex"..."

      Mother Nature is not evil. Tornados are indeed, just weather, and if you are a God-fearin' man, then you should know weather is God's creation. So, is the Reverand calling God evil? Remind not to go to his Church!

      May 23, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • jb

      The 2011 Farmer's Alamac predicted a highly active season for storms and tornados for Missouri this year, it also said cooler, wet than normal. At least they have a better prediction rate... ( : People have lost touch with methods farmer's use – don't blame it on God – it really is just a fluctuating seasonal pattern change that happens and was predicted.

      May 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      Eric, give it a rest. It's inappropriate to make fun of people. The Rev. is just as human as anyone else and does not deserve your unfair, arrogant analysis.

      May 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Branden

    Hey guy... Chill out. Go take a dump so you arent as grumpy. These people just got hit by a massive tornado... They can talk about god as much as they want to... You need to slap yourself a few times or have someone kick the crap out of you.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Lilian

      You've got to be kidding me—it's so trnaspartenly clear now!

      October 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BB

    Disasters happen to the ones who believe in God and those who don't. The difference is how the people who do believe are better able to cope and get comfort from within as they face their new reality. I prefer to know I have help from within that is stronger than anything from without including cruel words that have been spoken here.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      "better able to cope". And you're basing that on what? I believe that living in reality is always the better option.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Squeaky Voice

      You don't have to believe in fairy tales to have a deep well of faith in one's own ability to rebuild and carry on after a natural disaster. Nor is it necessary to help one's fellow man. Word of warning to the survivors: beware of false samaritans wth Jesus fishes on their business cards. They're preying on your blind faith to swindle you.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      I'm sorry but I've never seen "better coping skills" in people with faith as compared to people without faith. I've seen both types rise to the occasion...and both types fall to pieces. If your faith gives you strength in times of crisis, that's great. But please don't assume that other people don't have inner strength because they have faith in themselves rather than in some higher power...because you'd be wrong.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      Squeakyvoice, I genuinely feel sorry for you in your self-centered world. You are not experiencing life, you are merely existing. I hope you find a way to overcome your bitterness so that you don't continue to spill your abuse on innocent people on these threads.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. popeye

    My soon too be wife has family in joplin , thank god they were spared ! So many lost every thing and my thoughts and prayers truly are with you all . As for the crude remarks that's due to the name stealing people on this site posing as some one they are not and a lack of monitoring on cnns part I know the real cesar wouldn't post that !

    May 23, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. Please

    ...don't feed the trolls. People like 'Ted Linguini' and 'Cesar' will come here to say rude and ignorant things to try to cause reasonable people to react. If you don't reply to these trolls, they will go away.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Ted Linguini

      LOL @ Troll..... I f you can't stand reason and logic and fact, then well I just feel sorry for you. And BTW....I have as much compassion for what occurred as anyone....I just don't rely on fantasy to cope and understand. Fact is silly to put false hope in false prophets....ask a Doomsdayer.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. saywhat

    our hearts & prayers go out to the people of Joplin. The devastatioin is heart rending.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    Wow... Mother nature has reminded us that we are only here as long as she allows. In the grand sense, humans matter little. We are NO more important than anything else, although most think they are. Humbling reminder that we are only here for a very short time.
    The blame game isn't necessary.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. Katie

    Hey CHILDREN: Stop commenting to the troll.. Grow up. You appear to be as moronic as they are.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sniper Wolf

    Really bad tornado season this year. Makes you wonder if the hurricane season will be equally the same.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. Joey

    I want to repeat that the abusive "Cesar" is a TROLL.
    The real Cesar is a very intelligent and respectful man.
    If you report abuse under the assumed name "Cesar," be sure to include the exact time of the offensive comment.
    Thank you.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. dbdDemon

    My heart goes to those effected by this terrible storm. may the coming weeks help this community pull together become stronger.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sally

    I know the real Cesar and he's an ass. He should be in jail.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
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