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. wspining

    Our hearts and prayers go out to you from here in Mid TN. We know about tornadoes, but nothing like this. So sorry for the loss and devastation you're experiencing.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. popeye

    Dear readers foremost I would like to send out my prayers to all , secondly I'm very disheartened by the vast majority of the uncaring post I find here ! These people don't need your hateful remarks but that seems to be the majoritys consensus if that majority is American then I'm ashamed to call my self American ! Please help in stomping out these uncalled for post , if enough people call CNN maybe they will be overwhelmed and put a stop to it ! Cnns # 404-827-2600

    May 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      Yes, please call CNN to have them stop free speech. That would be the American way.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MCMC

    Why are you thanking God for saving you? If he saved you, then he also killed all of your neighbours. Are you going to thank him for that too?

    May 23, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • RaKa

      Yes, because obviously if your father saved you that actually means he is a killer...idiot.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MCMC

    And whats the point in 'sending prayers'??? Did those prayers that people made wishing for safety help? NO. So why would sending prayers now do anything.
    I swear if you Christians actually put thought into the hypocrisy you spout, people would spend their energy doing way more constructive activities.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • RaKa

      Ahh, another atheist pushing his/her beliefs on everyone. You are obviously obsessed with God. Maybe you sense your impending doom.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fran

    I am so sorry for all of the residents of Joplin. It is just so hard and horrible. You can be sure my thoughts and prayers will be with you. May God give you some comfort. I wish I could come there to help you all.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gary

    The devastation is just heart wrenching. I truly feel for the families and individuals affected by this horrible disaster. They are all in my thoughts.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. popeye

    @fake popeye ignorant's , that's your greatest virtue!

    May 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joey

    My post complimenting popeye's troll on spelling "favourite" correctly was censored.
    Lovely.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hawk

    Welcome to global warming. this is just the start. hurracanes and tornadoes will get stronger and stronger. as the earth warms up.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrJaz

      I think there have always been tornado's like this... They just don't hit cities very often. Note that this is the FOURTH deadliest tornado since 1950.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jane

      They had tornado's like this in the 50's where hundreds were killed in one Year. Jane

      May 23, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RaKa

    All the stupid atheist do is look for unfortunate events so they can hate on people. What a bunch of self righteous haters.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      All the stupid theists do is look for fortunate incidents so they can say that prayer and god saved, all the while there are just as many unfortunate incidents where people prayed and still died. Prayer is cute but meaningless other than as therapy.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Ya know, clumping atheists together is as sad and stupid as clumping christians together. Are all christians alike? If so, those of you still here must've missed the bus, huh? Didn't christians (if any.. Plenty of christian dead waiting already. 144k max, i hear) get called up saturday?

      Not very christian to judge and sell me out sight unseen. Good luck with that.

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

      Sorry can't understand you. I don't speak hate.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • RaKa

      Next time I see a Christian I'll pass on your comments. Nice that you use Christians as your excuse to hate though.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey

    No, not the fiery furnace...
    Not the doom of fire...

    May 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey

    Plural: "atheists."
    Sound it out, slowly and carefully–if you've ever heard it said correctly.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • RaKa

      let me try. athei....idiots. Hey! I got the "s" in there!

      May 23, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. The Puppet Master

    Ugh....duh, duh....ummmm.....duh..ugh....
    Learn to spell David! Feel free to pick up a book and read it. I hear there is a nice library in Viola.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Scottish Mama

    The local news channel has posted a number for donations for the people affected in Joplin Missouri. American Redcross the number is 1-866-444-7669. The local news man is from Texas and has covered tornatoes for 40 years and said he has never saw such devistation.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. The Puppet Master

    Ugh....duh, duh....ummmm.....duh..ugh....
    Learn to spell Dave. You are so dumb and yet entertaining at the same time. I hear there is a nice library inViola?

    May 23, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
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