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. Lauren Taber

    anybody know how far the tornado went? My aunt lives in Joplin but I dont know if the tornado got to her house or not. Very worried!!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cooper3434

    I think it is time to start building houses out of more than just glue and paper. Bricks and cement, may be, like long time ago in a galaxy far far away (Europe)?
    Most of the people get killed in their own houses because like everything else the houses are made so they would look nice but they can't stand up to any weather events like this. At least in the places prone to tornados and hurricanes our building codes need to change so instead of paying billions in damages after the disaster we can spend billions on saving people's lives and their households.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PARROT

    THE MAYANS PREDICTED THIS 4,000 YEARS AGO, AND YET MANY PEOPLE DIED TODAY...!!...I GUESS NOBODY IS LISTENING TO OUR FOREFATHERS ANY LONGER...OH WELL

    May 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      This has got to be the funniest comment. Do you plan out your life according to the Mayan and the Egyptian prophecies? I bet you passed out pamphlets for the "Rapture".

      On another note, someone in the article mentioned the destruction is worse than what could be done by a nuclear bomb. Seriously dude???

      May 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      Eeeh, maybe because nobody can predict future events, especially not some prehistoric Indians. The weather man can sometimes get the weather right about a week out. Prophets are fairy tales! Why can't adult Americans grow up and stop believing in fairy tales like Mayan prophecies or religions?

      May 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • hoorayforlogicyay

      from a fellow troll, well done. nice. I'm going with using fox news logic to express raging liberal views, but the classic full retard is always hilarious.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steve D

    Hey Cesar... Someone out their most likely has a backdoor to your computer and tool bar, thats all i have to say.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. smrtaz

    This is really not the thread for debates. Anyone without a raisin where their heart should be is sending their hopes/prayers to the survivors of this tragedy.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • boby

      "send hopes and prayers..". so basically send them nothing ? thats so cold your a meanie!!

      If hopes and prayers worked this wouldn't have happened in the 1st place

      May 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • pccoder

      I agree with "boby", send hopes and prayers somewhere else. if you want to do something to help, actually do something tangible.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jean Paul Sartre

      I too, agre with boby and pccoder: that's about all this country does anymore is hope and pray... do something useful for these very unfortunate people... send money, food or take some time and go personally to actually help them...

      May 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Agnim

      Yes this is a "thread" for reflection on how Americans come to earn this nasty karmic slap from Mother Nation, on account of Americans from raining bombs & missiles UNPROVOKED on the heads of people (Iraqis, Libyans, etc) who haven't even done anything to Americans in the first place.
      Anyway, this experience is mild compared to US UNPROVOKED destructiveness in Iraq & Libya!

      May 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Allyson

    Joe, way to make a tragedy into a political statement. This is ridiculous and I pray that God has mercy on you for this statement.

    May 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • hoorayforlogicyay

      The Holocaust was a tragedy, but we shouldn't make political statements about it? Are you retarded?

      May 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bill

    America is being punished for its acts

    May 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrea

      Sure, because everyone knows the apex of power and policy making is in Joplin, Missouri.

      May 23, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @rayjackson: but can you imagine how boring life would be without them? It's like legalizing weed – there'd be nothing to talk about:-)

      May 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ellis

    I'm sorry I posted that horrible remark. It was me, not Cesar. I regret it deeply. I like to pick on Cesar so that's why I did it. Again, sorry.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jazzzzzzzzzz

    @ Brandon, those who would judge God may Jesus restrain himself from judging them in the same manner. We really have no idea why things of nature happen but to curse God is not righteous in the least.
    @ FAKE CESAR/ ELLIS You need to seriously stop and think about what your doing to not us but yourself and your future eternal soul. pls thnik for one minute, otherwise if you wish to ignore... Ican only pray for you. and that is said with concern not spite or hate. What you do show me that you really do need serious mental help. I didnt even see the post but am glad i didnt.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    Earth Changes are coming. They will grow as the days pass and there will be no place on earth that will go unaffected by them. They are coming because God is getting tired of looking down upon man's evil day in and day out. War without end, murder, thefts, lies, fraud, sodomy, adultery, cruelty to children, maltreatment of the poor, medical experiments on unsuspecting and poor, devil worship and witchcraft. These are all reasons why God allows and even directs these things to happen to men. So next time you see a disaster and ask God why, you will understand that there is a simple reason for it. Evil will not be allowed to continue for much longer.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      As if this is the first natural disaster to ever hit the US.

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

      These things have been happening long before humans arrived on the earth and they will continue to happen long after we are gone from this planet.

      Has nothing to do with man's behavior or a so called god. It has to do with nature and the happenings of the universe.

      So next time you see a disaster...think nature not a fairy tale god who is disappointed in us.

      May 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      really, man I can't stand this god is vengful crap. This is nature, yes because of MAN we might see this as a norm becuse of climate change but its not god punishing us its mearly cuase and effect. Pump out too much carbon = atmosphere heats up period. I'm not making fun of religious people just the nut job fire and brimstone ones.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cliff

    I live ten miles from this, total destruction. AND I voted for and support President Obama. Please do not turn this into a political debate. I have friends and family who have still not found their loved ones, and who have lost their homes. This town of 50,000 residents was 75% destroyed. People here have not only lost their homes, but also their places of employment, and many have lost their lives. Please PRAY for these people. And pray for the heroes who are here attempting search and rescue. THESE people are who we need to be talking about. God speed finding those who are trapped in the destruction.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      And of course, shame on your "god" for starting this tornado in the first place. He does after all see, foresee, and control everything. But maybe if we "pray" enough he will stop doing this.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Doubt it. Some pretty 'godly' people have prayed and been praying for a long time...

      May 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      if you can blame God in your statement, you're only other option is to blame the devil's who's mission is to kill, steal, and destroy. You seem anti God in your statement. So why don't you go do a Satanic thing and go to Joplin and dig survivors out of their ruined homes, since that what you believe in. Jesus said that wisdom is proved by her actions. Take my word, and buy a bible, tune into Joel Osteen, and join a bible based church. Your life will blossom!

      May 24, 2011 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      Hello friend, hope u are not refering to the creator of heaven and earth, if u are, then u have to know this that God is not a wicked God.

      May 24, 2011 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest24

      actually, it was said on the news that over a quarter was destroyed, precisely 25-30% of the the city was destroyed, but i agree with you, these people have lost there lives. it's very sad knowing they have nothing left and have to rebuild from scratch.

      May 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey

    STOP THE TROLLS! STOP THE TROLLS! STOP THE TROLLS!

    May 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sam49

    My heart and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy. The American Red Cross will be receiving yet another contribution from my family to help in our small way.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joan B

    Prayers going out for the people of Joplin.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kiera

    God Bless all that have been effected by this my thoughts and prayiers go to you!! I thinkin stead of sitting here debating on here about why and how it happened.. Maybe you all should get off your butts and help! We need to stand by eachother as AMERICANS not republicans and democrats!! The problem with this country is we are all to self absorbed on our own lifes that we forget that we should be as one and help eachother out!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
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