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. ila

    are the people in this country all going crazy? What is up with all this crazy talk??

    May 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Juan

    My deepest condolences to all resident of Joplin. My heart goes out to all of you for what had done to your town.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. popeye

    Please donate to Red Cross and give what you can.
    If anyone wants, feel free to steal my screen name.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • popeye

      Or not ,I prefer to keep my on name !

      May 24, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. beth

    LMAO im sorry but you have no idea what you are talking about. Tornadoes are a part of life, the more people that populate land the more people that will be killed in bad tornadoes. God has nothing to do with it!!! Im so gald you want to make people feel worse in a time of horfrible pain!!

    May 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. popeye

    Thanks popeye! I've been looking to hijack a new screen name, but since this one is free...I'll take it!

    May 23, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • popeye

      Don't think so !

      May 24, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Yeah, you were "lucky"...but not blessed.....

      Let me clue you in on seomthing. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your life was spared because he has more work for you to do on this earth. You were blessed, not lucky.

      On the other hand, if you are NOT a follower of Jesus Christ, then you need to examine your position with Him and accept Him as your personal Savior.

      May 24, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • MC

      There was a giant easter bunny saving those who had dyed eggs in HIS name. I am RIGHT with the easter bunny and thus no tornado has come near me since.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. Lisa - Boston, MA

    My thoughts and prayers are with you....

    May 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. popeye

    I prefer to keep my "own" name !

    May 24, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • popeye

      There you go stealing my name again! What have I told you about that...

      May 24, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. popeye


    May 24, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    How can those who call on the name of "God" still say that they are lucky. And how can those who call on the name of "Jesus" escape from the very destruction. Are they still "lucky" as Godly people are contributing to their recovery, feed lines, rebuilding, etc... I"m just saying.

    May 24, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      Chris, what i want u to know is that, there is nothing like luck in the Bible, i believe that it is the mercy of God. Because God said he will have mercy on who he will have marcy on. believe it was dpivine mercy of God not luck.

      May 24, 2011 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jennifer Michelle

    I really hope I don't offend anyone by saying this, but its crazy how much alike the tornado pictures from Joplin are to our own here in Tuscaloosa, AL. It's very sad, and almost overwhelming, we faced this last month, and now its happening to someone else. I'm glad that people are donating and doing what they can to help. Please continue to help and support both Joplin and Tuscaloosa!

    May 24, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. Aud

    Why aren't all the comments showing up??

    May 24, 2011 at 3:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dr. Tony Burleson

    My prayers to all Devastated and displaced may the lord move in your hurts and pains.

    Love you all

    May 24, 2011 at 5:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. CarCar

    I often wonder if atheists are really atheists, or souls who have been hurt and are angry. They often seem so angry at the mere suggestion on God. Prayer saves innumerable lives. There is most certainly a God. Just as much as prayer saves lives, it can also be used to find out if there is a God, but you have to have a little faith, just a little. The idea may seem crazy, but I couldn't imagine going through life not believing, not knowing. I've leaned on Him more times than I can count and have been blessed with miracles every time. Someone posed the question of why would a loving God allow bad things to happen. Well, why did such a perfect God have to suffer so much? To save us. It was the only way. We have to go through difficulty in our lives in order to progress. Think about explaining a hardship to someone who hasn't walked in your shoes. Think about explaining to them what you've learned. They don't understand, right, because they haven't been through it. What's the point of this life if we aren't challenged? How much do you learn when things are easy? How is it possible to appreciate real joy without hardships in between? It is a loving God who allows us to go through difficulty for our experience and growth while being right by our side to help us through it and answering when we call on Him. Difficulty also blesses us with a chance to help others and to develop bonds that otherwise wouldn't exist if there was no tragedy. How can anyone be so sure there isn't a God? Have you tried believing? I know this post sounds incredibly preachy, but if you consider that it may be true, that the survivors telling the above stories who expressed belief and faith in God really were blessed with safety because of prayer and faith, God will confirm your belief so that when the road gets rough, your fear will be minimized and your hope and strength will be astronomical. To all those who lost loved ones, they are in the arms of Jesus and watching over you. He is with you, even carrying you through this great trial. My heart just breaks from what you must be going through. The sun will shine again and brighter than before. My prayers are with you.

    May 24, 2011 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Your delusion is complete, you've covered all the contingencies. I truly believe that your god could send you to hell and you would find some way to consider that a blessing in disguise and love him anyway. Atheists are people who don't just believe whatever feels good, but what seems rational. Religion doesn't even come close

      May 24, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • jackieo

      Agree with you 100%. Wonderful post!

      May 24, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • jackieo

      that is – agree with CarCar 100%!! Shame on you Jim!

      May 24, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Happy 1

      I agree Jim, its confusing how otherwise intelligent people could be so gullible. I understand back in the time religion was created as a way to control the masses, people were illiterate and not allowed to learn to read. But what is the excuse today? I believe it stems from an indoctoration or "grooming" that teach babies to believe blindly of magical figures like santa and the easter bunny. When children are very young, it works best to coerce them with prizes and treats, like Santa and the Easter bunny. As the child gets older more punitive myths, such as god are introduced to ensure they are afraid to think for themselves and to prepare them for a
      life of slavery. Serfs used to call their bosses lords because they were told their masters were descended directly from god, this so they wouldn't complain about unbearable and unfair conditions, much like today, except now they're called jobs and corporations, but its all the same, the have nots, working your life away barely for sustenance, hoping for that great reward in the sky someday...

      May 24, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. Seanna

    What's wrong with you? No one deserves this.

    May 24, 2011 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. The Dimension Machine

    I am sure that they thought it is the end of the world…..I wish you all the best and I am sure you will find positive energy to overcome this. Thanks and all the best from TheDimensionMachine DOT com

    May 24, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
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