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. Guest

    Pretty sure you mean HEROES!! For this country anyway...

    May 23, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    Seriously...what is the matter with you?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • oneLonelyVoice

      The people on this forum represent the worst of humanity. CNN should not allow comments like these, they serve no purpose other than to make the author feel smug and superior.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pearberr

      To disallow all of these admittedly horrible comments would require the volunteerism of hundreds of people to become moderators on these forums.

      aka, its not possible. Just realize that in real life, people cannot hide behind their curtain of anonymity and are decent. It is I believe the third level of morality to do good to keep a good reputation with your peers? Out of 5.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      The purpose of the form is to post your opinion. I agree that most people's opinions differ from mine. Such is life.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ted Linguini

    @ Branden....very "Christian" of you

    May 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. The Ortega Family

    Our prayers are with all of those effected in Joplin and surrounding communities. May God be with you!!!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pat

    I see these occurrences as a metaphor for what the republican party iis trying to do to America.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Keyboard Cowboy

      Oh, good one socialist!

      May 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      Yes of course, everyone who is not a Republican must automatically be a socialist. There are only two colors: black and white, and two political views: Republican or Socialist.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ted Linguini

    Very entrepreneurial of you. Hope you make a lot of money....you are garbage to try to capitalize on this.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. Joey

    After reading a complaint about Ted Linguini's comments, I read some of them.
    I found nothing offensive in them.
    He is free to encourage awareness of reality to "cope and understand" natural disasters.
    I agree with his advocacy.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. Corporal Easy

    We're driving from Fort Drum, NY to San Jose, CA and we encountered the tornado storm. We recorded everything until our HD HandyCam died... I've never seen anything like it. It was extremely hard to see anything and we just followed the car in front of us and continued driving while everyone else sopped on the side of the road and tried to get under the freeway ramps and bridges. At first everything got dark, then it was an extreme rain then it was hailing and the we could not see anything. We turned on our four-way emergency lights and pushed through it along with the person in front of us.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • DaveC

      Stay safe out there.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hgmma

    Perhaps instead of asking "god" why such tragedies happen, people will realize the dramatic effects climate change is having on the intensity of storms and other natural disasters..... Na, it just to easy to blame god!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • jason withers

      That is a stupid thing to say.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • pccoder

      you make a great point. I'm so frustrated by en masse ignorance. "God" is never blamed for the bad, only the good.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      Nooo, that would be rational, science based, and productive. We can't have that. Let's just pray and see instead...

      May 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Eric of Reseda

    Get ready folks. More of htis to come. The earth is warmng even faster than they thought, and all this "weird" weather the last 10-20 years, with records falling everywhere, has long been predicted. And because most of y'all buy into Big Business's claim, "Oh, it's just the natural weather trends and man has nothing to do with it.", all so they can keep pumping trillions of tons of pollutants into the air, water & land, and all to make money, expect all this to just get worse and worse. Global Warming is not only NOT a lie, it is upon us, and mankind has ALOT to do with, 'cuz it's US that's pumping all this extra heat into the atmosphere, via billions of cars and factories and destruction of oxygen-giving forests, oxygen-producing ocean habitats, etc.. etc., etc. WAKE THE EF UP, PEOPLE!!! Do we REALLY need to CONSUME our way to extinction, or the very least, TRILLIONS of dollars of damage that will come out of OUR pockets and cause MAJOR loss of life and the wildlife we need to survive as well as serious economic ruin?!?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • smrtaz

      Actually if the entire world heated up that would cause less tornados. You have to have a cold and warm front come together to form a tornado. If the entire earth warms up, then you lose the cold fronts that cause tornados. How many tornados do you hear about near the equator? Sorry to inject fact into the fairytale called Global Warming.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cranky

      The truth is that one year of volcano eruptions spews out MANY more times the amount of global warming-causing gasses than ALL of mankind for all of recorded history.

      Sorry to burst your egotistical bubble, but if we abandonded all technology today went back to 100% hunter/gatherer societies, it wouldn't even make a dent and never would have. Drop in the bucket, at most.

      May 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • pccoder

      people replying to you are not very smart.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Evie

    I really wish people would come up with a more original phrase than 'war zone' to describe the devastation. That's got to be the most hackneyed phrase in the history of disaster. That said, I can't believe the destruction–praying for comfort for those affected.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      ORIGINAL phrase, really, you are asking for an ORIGINAL

      May 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      let me finish, how can you have an ORIGINAL phrase, when every where you look strikes you speechless and there are no words to describe your hometown destroyed.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Shannon

    i am looking for my aunt and uncle Bonbrake they lived on connectcut ave Was near hwy 44 was this area hit? I have tried red cross no word PLEASE HELP

    May 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shannon

    Wow I am hoping that Cesar is not being truthfull.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shannon

    I can only hope that you get what you deserve. I hope you and your family never are in this position.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. hoss

    whom ever is waisting their time on this website just to cause harm is a waist of breath go do something else these people are hurting your rude as should feel thankful that someone from joplin dont slap the teeth out your mouth go get a life IF you even value yours have a great day cause i will AND i will do what i can for these people and im states away

    May 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
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