Joplin's Tornado Leaves 7 Mile Path Of Destruction
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Steve Inskeep.
More deadly tornadoes carved through the Midwest yesterday, killing at least 13 people in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. The most powerful twister broke out west of Oklahoma City. It tore apart vehicles on Interstate 40, and cut a devastating path through the city of El Reno.
MONTAGNE: Two people were also killed when an uprooted tree struck their van in central Kansas, according to the Associated Press.
We'll have more coverage of those storms elsewhere in the program.
KELLY: Now, all this comes as the town of Joplin, in Missouri, is still digging out after suffering the country's deadliest tornado in decades. At least 122 people were killed there, and hundreds remain unaccounted for.
MONTAGNE: The Joplin tornado drove straight through the city - from west to east -on Sunday evening, creating a wide path of near-total destruction. Frank Morris, of member station KCUR, retraced that path yesterday and brings us this report.
FRANK MORRIS: I'm walking along the western edge of Joplin. This is where the tornado plowed into town. It was already going full force, about two-thirds of a mile wide, with winds approaching 200 miles an hour.
Mr. KYLE CARDER: We could see clouds swirling around, and that's when we ran down into their basement.
MORRIS: Kyle Carder rode out the storm with neighbors.
Mr. CARDER: It didn't last more than - I don't know, it felt like a lot longer than it probably was. Maybe a minute, two minutes. I looked out their basement window and saw there wasn't a house there. And then the one behind that was gone.
MORRIS: Walking along here, you get to the top of the hill. And on this hill -looks like maybe the highest point in Joplin - you can see most of the seven-mile path of complete destruction this tornado made.
(Soundbite of power saw)
MORRIS: Michel Story stands in a pile of debris that was her grandmother's home, gazing at desolation stretching to the horizon.
Ms. MICHEL STORY: There's a lot of pain. How can one thing do so much damage to one little town?
MORRIS: The tornado cleared this hill and tore into St. John's Regional Health Center, one of two big hospitals here, where Brandon McCoy was at work in an office.
Mr. BRANDON MCCOY (Hospital Employee): All the windows started shaking, and it was just - you couldn't see past the windows; there was so much debris. And then all of a sudden, the windows blew outwards and then the tornado picked it back up and it went back inside. And then, standing on the sixth floor, I was trying to help a lady out of some debris. And you look outside and just - everything's gone.
MORRIS: A bit farther east, a play had just ended in an old church converted into a community theater. A basement battered by crumpled cars, and full of sharp debris, is all that remains.
Tiffany Story is still clearly shaken as she points through a basement door hanging ajar.
Ms. TIFFANY STORY: This was the cast door, cast entrance. And where my son is standing - he's in the green shirt there, the red hair - that is the stairwell. That's where we were all hiding. It took everything I could do to hold him on the ground. I almost lost him.
(Soundbite of crying)
MORRIS: Two members of the cast did die. Others were badly hurt. A few more blocks, down a street resembling a war zone, two men work with a pick and shovel, digging a grave for a dog.
(Soundbite of digging)
MORRIS: This mind-bogglingly destructive tornado churned on - destroying house after house after house - on the way to here, the high school, where I'm standing right now.
Ms. KIM CAMPBELL (High School Student): It's scary. I'm glad we didn't have our graduation here.
MORRIS: Kim Campbell is one of the graduating seniors. Fortunately, the ceremony was held at a nearby university, not the high school - which was obliterated.
I'm heading east now, across downed power lines and shards of everything, towards Joplin's business district. The rubble heaps here rise to two stories in some places. Joplin's stores and restaurants are major regional employers, and many of the biggest of them are just gone.
It's not until you clear the eastern edge of town that the wreckage starts to ease. Even here, electric power comes from mobile generators.
(Soundbite of generators)
MORRIS: Well, I've finally come to - close to the end of the tornado's path of destruction here. It is hard to wrap your mind around a disaster like this. And seven miles is a long, long way when for both sides, as far as you can see, there's nothing but ruined, ground-up rubble.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Joplin, Missouri.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.