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. db

    With the utter distruction and loss of life in Joplin MO. I wonder how many other nations that have received our aid and comfort will come to the aid of these people. If anything, President Obama should be headed back to the USA immediately and headed to the disaster area. It is hard for me to believe that a man in his position would be going on vacation while the Mississippi River distroys so many lives and now this disaster as well. I hope everybody remembers the lack of compassion and response this bozo has toward his own people and I do hope the people remember this on November 22, 2012.
    I feel sorry for the folks that are involved in both disasters and wish them all well and quick recovery, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jb

      He sent the Air National Gaurd – you are really going to make this the president's fault? You are whacked!

      May 23, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • jb

      I would also like to know what you are doing to help? Just insane platform...

      May 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nc

      Really? And just what are you doing to help?

      FEMA is on the way AND what these people in Joplin DON'T need is the President there right now.....All of the national guard, etc., need to help locate survivors and victims and NOT worry about guarding the President.

      In a few weeks – yes, that would be great! Now, heck no.

      obviously, you are just trying to slam the President and have no knowledge, whatsoever, of what it is like to be around a horrific disaster like this.

      Donate money, time, etc – and shut the heck up.

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

      What have you done to help out?? Are you in route to help clean up and dig people out?? I wonder where the Employees at Walmart will be working today, OH I forgot, the entire building is gone, guess they won't be working for a while. The car dealerships are gone, gas stations gone, The mall is damaged the pharmacy's are gone. People will not have jobs for a long long time and you turn this into something political??? What we do not need is a president to visit and distriact our mission of getting live people removed from the rubble and their pain relieved. I know some of these people and they are not gong to wait for government hand outs. What is happening is that friends, neighbors, and people from the surrounding communities will all be there trying to help with boots on the ground. Enough of this I have a 640 mile trip to make. I have to packup I will be there tomorrow morning doing something about this. O by the way I did not vote for Obama FYI.

      May 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • saf62

      You really do not know what you are talking about, do you? I've already heard several survivors and on hand witnesses in Joplin speak of the good help FEMA has been to them. FEMA is the federal government help. What in this world do you expect President Obama to do exactly? He has provided a much more organized and efficient program in FEMA to give aid in times like these. It seems you have used this opportunity to degrade him for your own political reasons, and you do speak out of ignorance as to how the fed gov has already assisted.

      May 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Toxic Zebra

    Looks like the need for better storm shelters is demonstrated in the damage done here; One minute we're here relaxing in the evening and the next we're not. The forces of nature are undiscerning in their harvest of life, sweeping away both the good and bad, the rich and poor, free and slave, the loud and the silent. There comes the day when ALL flesh must pass through the gates into eternal life and no man knows when that day comes, when their dust shall return to the Earth as it was and the spirit is released into eternal afterlife. God is the mass of all life combined and when as few as three gather The spirit is there with the force of those united souls...

    May 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sandy

    Prayers go out to all the people of Joplin. How sad.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jean2009

    Really sad for these people, and then to have these morons posting garbage...get a life.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cricket

    Why does everybody assume (like you) that because the President is out of the country, he is on vacation?

    How is he ever supposed to conduct any foreign business if he can never go to any foreign countries?

    And what can he do here that he hasn't done already *there?*

    He's up on the situation.

    Now, donate to the Red Cross. I have.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. whitewitch608

    These poor people have just had their lives torn apart and you can write all this crap. Give me a break. I am a Red Cross volunteer and would be one of the first to go and so WHATEVER is needed to help these people but I am unable to leave my job. Maybe you people need to look at the BIG picture and do SOMETHING to help out. It could of been you.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Agnim

    Just a tiny fraction of Americans are directly having a deadly taste of what INNOCENT Iraqis, Libyans, ect experience, when violence-loving warmongers consciously & deliberately rain bombs on peoples heads, people who haven't even done anything to Americans in the first place. The rest of Americans will 'share the PREVENTABLE pain' with their tax dollars.

    Lesson: Bomb & destroy others & Mother Nature will return the negative consequences.
    Unfortunately for ignoramuses, the connection will not be made between US destructiveness towards others & Mother Nature's karmic returns; and so the warmongers and their supporters & apologists will just continue the cycle of evil until Americans is finally reduced to just another worn out evil empire.

    Evil empire builders delude themselves that they only need to guard themselves from destruction that has to come from human enemies. Big Mistake!

    Cycle of cause & effect IS INDEPENDENT of human participation!
    Bad consequences come to the doer, with or WITHOUT human participation.

    Americans who are wise will know to STOP raining bombs on others. As for the violence-lovin fools, what can we say; endless ignorance & suffering will be their lot.

    Only thing that should rain on people's head from the sky is Mother Nature's precipitations. NOT BOMBS & MISSILES!

    May 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Wrong place to post this. Take your political stuff elsewhere.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      yeah nut job. This is not a consequence of the iraq war except for possibly the carbon footprint on our climate. This is business as usual for mother nature unfortunately man happens to be in its path on occasion.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • tjc360

      please kill yourself

      May 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. maria

    My heart goes out to the people of Joplin, Missouri. I wish I lived closer so I could HELP. Donating money doesn't seem like enough. I want to physically help them.

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

    Man this has become rediculous. GOD did not do this..period this is not punishment. I live not far from joplin and to say this is punishment is cruel to those effected these are peoples lives take your hate mongering else where. I'm not a religous man but I do remember jesus saying "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" so remember that and remeber an agnostic told you. To those who have sent your prayers and concerns thank you so much.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. вłυešωıłł яeтıяeđ ¢ρ¢ łeαđeя Ч чeαя νeтeяαи

    I live in a nearby city near Joplin and I'm 13 years old. I would just like to say that Joplin was hit hard by this deadly tornado. We had to make cards at school today for them, because they have nothing now. They can only hope to get back on their feet. Please do not judge them because they got hit by a tornado, if you are, I'd like to see you in their position and actually judge a 5 year old who has nothing, no food, no water, etc. Thank you for your time, everyone. Please keep Joplin in your prayers, they need the prayers.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Okie

    That is what I love about Americans. We all pull together when a disaster hits. Let's do something constructive.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • dedawn1

      Im with you Okie, what do you have in mind? time for americans to pull together.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lindsey

    It amazes me the degree of hate those of you whom choose to comment for political/religious reasons after having read about this heartbreaking tragedy. Just because you are able to hide behind a veil of anonymity does not give you a license to take out your unrelated aggression. Ask yourself if you'd say these things to the faces of those whom just have been struck by this tragedy? My guess is no. Until a heartbreak like this happens to you, you don't know. And I'd be willing to bet none of these victims would even ever wish this on you. Please have some compassion. Truth is this, or something similar, could happen to any of us at anytime.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ruby

    I truly feel for these people and for the loss of their homes and loved ones. I am going to pray for them and hope that they dont find any more people dead.... so sad.... Mother nature has her way with the weather these days!

    May 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kristina

    My heart goes out to all of those that were affected by this tragic storm. My prayers are with all of you.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. KarenH

    I am so sorry for their loss. Its got to be hard!

    Anyone claiming this is a punishment from God needs to keep those comments/theories to themselves! I am so sick of judgemental self-righteous so called Christians thinking that they have all the correct answers and need to "enlighten" the rest of us.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
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