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.

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Tornado survivor: Split-second decision saved my life
Tussiona Mikell debated taking shelter at this Walmart -- but instead chose to stay hunkered down at the Dollar Tree.
May 23rd, 2011
02:36 PM ET

Tornado survivor: Split-second decision saved my life

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 lives 12 miles from Joplin, in Neosho, Missouri, and was in town just to get a few items.

Then, the sirens started blaring.

The alerts were saying a tornado was headed straight down the street. Mikell took a split-second to make a decision. At first, she was going to head to the Walmart nearby, but she was afraid she might get caught trying to make it.

The Dollar Tree cashier said "Well, we have a freezer here, we normally go into the cooler when something like this happens," Mikell told CNN. "They were telling everyone, 'Get to the back, get to the back.' We rushed into the coolers and we could just hear everything on the outside, but we couldn't see what was happening."

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."

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Joplin a hub for 4-state region
Joplin, Missouri, sits at the nexus of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
May 23rd, 2011
01:54 PM ET

Joplin a hub for 4-state region

Joplin is the commercial, transportation, medical and cultural hub of a 5,000-square-mile area with parts in four states - Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The city's website boasts that its 50,000 population swells to 270,000 during the workday as it draws from the 400,000 people who live within a 40-mile radius.

Joplin, located 140 miles south of Kansas City and 200 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, was founded in 1843 and operates on a city council-manager system. It sits at the junction of Interstate 44 and U.S. 71 and along historic Route 66. Joplin has been working on an ambitious downtown beautification project since 2005.

In 1933, the infamous outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow hid out in a Joplin garage for several weeks before fleeing after police were tipped off. They left behind a camera that yielded several iconic photos of the criminal duo.

The city's annual Boomtown Days festival in June features music, entertainment, kids activities, contests, food and games. The festival recalls Joplin's history as a lead-mining capital.

The Joplin Little Theater is the oldest continuously operating community theater west of the Mississippi, the city website boasts.

Famous people born in Joplin include poet Langston Hughes, golfer Hale Irwin, actors Bob Cummings and Dennis Weaver, and Emily Newell Blair who fought for women's suffrage.

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri • Tornadoes • Weather
Live Blog: Tornado kills 116 in Joplin, Missouri
The tornado flattened buildings, snapped trees and tossed tractor-trailers like toys as it touched down in Joplin.
May 23rd, 2011
01:39 PM ET

Live Blog: Tornado kills 116 in Joplin, Missouri

[Updated at 4:40 p.m.] A total of 116 people are confirmed dead as a result of Sunday's tornado in Joplin,Missouri, city manager Mark Rohr told reporters Monday. That means the death toll from the Joplin twister is tied for second most in U.S. history, since the National Weather Service begin keeping such records in 1950.

[Updated at 1:39 p.m.] Rescuers have pulled five families from beneath the rubble in Joplin, Missouri, where a tornado devastated up to 30% of the city, according to Gov. Jay Nixon.

"We still believe there are folks alive under the rubble and we are working hard to save them," Nixon said Monday afternoon, nearly 19 hours after the tornado struck.

[Updated at 12:02 p.m.] St. John's Regional Medical Center was hit directly by the Joplin, Missouri, tornado and suffered significant damage, according to a statement from Lynn Britton, president of Sisters of Mercy Health System, which operates the hospital. One facade of the building made of glass was blown out, and authorities evacuated the medical center.

The hospital was treating 183 people when the storm struck, Britton said. It was unclear if any were injured in the storm. The patients were taken to hospitals as far away as Springfield, Missouri, and northwest Arkansas.

Structural engineers were on their way to Joplin to assess the building, where 1,700 people work, Britton said.

[Updated at 11:50 a.m.] CNN producer Eric Marrapodi was in Joplin, Missouri, when another wave of severe storms came through Monday morning.

"As lightning pops and thunder booms, you can see the locals flinch. It's likely too close for comfort after they lost 89 neighbors to a half-mile wide twister," Marrapodi writes.

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In Joplin, Missouri, 'telephone poles snapped like match sticks'
The storm snapped trees and telephone poles and flipped over cars.
May 23rd, 2011
11:38 AM ET

In Joplin, Missouri, 'telephone poles snapped like match sticks'

Editor's note: CNN producer Eric Marrapodi was on the ground in Joplin, Missouri, when the weather took another nasty turn Monday morning. Here's what he's seeing and witnessing as the sun comes up, but the storms keep coming.

It smells like fresh-cut lumber in Joplin, Missouri. It's the telephone poles, snapped like matchsticks.

We are taking cover in our live truck after the heavens opened up. There's a leak in the roof, but it's mostly dry.

As lightning pops and thunder booms, you can see the locals flinch. It's likely too close for comfort after they lost 89 neighbors to a half-mile wide twister.

The beating rain will wash away some of the dirt kicked up, but it won't unbend the basketball backboard that went from vertical to horizontal during the tornado.

I still can't figure out how the wicker chair got under the car that's under the snapped telephone pole.

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri • On the Ground • Tornadoes • Weather
May 23rd, 2011
09:00 AM ET

'Surreal moment' in Joplin store freezer: Storm drowns out shrieks, prayers

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.

"Get away from the window," one man shouts as you can hear a girl crying, saying, "I'm scared."

Then someone takes charge telling all of the people to "get down, low on the ground."

You can hear the wind whipping against the structure followed by the massive shattering of glass and loud noise of destruction. The group frantically rushes into the freezer screaming.

"Dad?" you can hear someone screaming. The sound of wind and destruction drowns out their voices.

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On the Radar: Missouri tornado, Obama's visit to Ireland, Pawlenty in, Oprah out
A cross rises above the rubble after a deadly tornado struck Sunday evening in Joplin, Missouri.
May 23rd, 2011
08:26 AM ET

On the Radar: Missouri tornado, Obama's visit to Ireland, Pawlenty in, Oprah out

Tornado devastates Missouri city: A tornado killed at least 89 people and destroyed as much as 20% of Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday evening. The twister cut a path through the central city and struck one of its hospitals.

Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard and stressed urgency in rescuing survivors.

Follow developments on CNN.com's live blog.

Louisiana inmates brace for flooding: Prisoners in southeastern Louisiana are helping to fill sandbags and patch up levee holes along the swollen Mississippi in an all-hands effort to keep the mighty river at bay.

At the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, parts of the sprawling prison complex are already underwater, and some 2,000 inmates have been evacuated. But about 2,500 inmates are still at the prison, working to fill holes and keep the grounds dry.

Along with several other states, Louisiana is struggling to cope with the worst flood to hit the lower Mississippi River Valley since at least 1937. FULL POST

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri • Tornadoes • Weather
May 23rd, 2011
06:10 AM ET

Tornado decimates Missouri city; number of deaths expected to rise

Residents in Joplin, Missouri, braced for news of fatalities Monday after a vicious tornado flattened buildings, tossed cars and hurled debris up to 70 miles away.

"I would say 75% of the town is virtually gone," said Kathy Dennis of the American Red Cross.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard and stressed urgency in rescuing survivors after the Sunday evening twister.

"It's total devastation, with a hospital down, the high school down, other areas," he said. "We just want to make sure that as the night goes on, we're saving lives between now and dawn."

Nixon said late Sunday night that there was no official death toll, but "we have had confirmation of a number of deaths. And the number appears to be rising."

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri • Tornadoes • Weather
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