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Joplin resident Ryan Atkinson on tornado

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Eyewitness: We Knew The Tornado Was Bad

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Eyewitness: We Knew The Tornado Was Bad

People walk down a Joplin street littered with destroyed trees and homes in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Mark Schiefelbein/AP hide caption

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Mark Schiefelbein/AP

People walk down a Joplin street littered with destroyed trees and homes in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, May 22, 2011.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Authorities in Joplin, Missouri say at least 116 people are dead [Updated] after a huge tornado passed over the town at sunset, yesterday. the city manager delivered the shocking news outside a hospital abandoned because it was so badly wrecked.

Joplin Globe sports writer Ryan Atkinson estimates the twister's path begins at the destroyed hospital and stretches down through the center of town where a number of shoppers were out.

Joplin resident Ryan Atkinson on tornado

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Ryan says the twister plowed through a popular retail area of downtown Joplin, home to WalMart, Home Deport and Academy Sports, that drew many shoppers, despite the late Sunday hour. He suspects new victims will be found here.

"The WalMart was heavily damaged," he says. "The Home Depot was pretty much taken out." No matter the time of day, "there have to be a good number of people at (that popular shopping location). I'm sure there had to be some loss of life there."

Ryan was at work last night at Globe headquarters when he and colleagues noticed the bad storm beginning.

Ryan Atkinson describes tornado

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"We headed down to the basement," he says. "we heard a constant rumble, the last time I heard that was back in 2003 when there was an outbreak of tornadoes...and so you kind of knew it wasn't just your ordinary severe thunderstorm that we're so used to around here."

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The AP says rescue crews are conducting a house-to-house search to try to find any missing or trapped residents but it'll be tough because there are live power lines down, gas leaks and too many trees in the road.

Update at 5:23 p.m. ET. 116 Dead In Joplin:

The Associated Press reports that the death toll in Joplin, Mo. has climbed to 116:

City Manager Mark Rohr announced the new death toll Monday afternoon. He said seven people had been rescued, and search and rescue efforts were still going on.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he was "optimistic that there are still lives out there to be saved."