Shattered Joplin, still searching for survivors from one of the strongest tornadoes on record, was rattled early yesterday after a new storm unleashed deadly twisters in neighboring US states.
A series of tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma late on Tuesday, killing four people in a rural county and injuring another 60 across the state, according to local officials, who said the tornadoes narrowly missed the state capital.
The belt of severe weather stretched across Oklahoma, northern Texas and Kansas, where two people died when high winds hurled a tree into a van on a highway, according to the state’s emergency management agency.
In Arkansas at least one person was killed early yesterday when a tornado swept through the small town of Denning, home to some 270 people, according to Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency.
The fresh storms frightened residents in Missouri, where rescue workers in the town of Joplin are still searching for survivors and shocked residents have been digging their belongings out of the ruins of their homes.
However, by early yesterday the storm appeared to have passed over the town without major incident, according to satellite imagery from the US National Weather Service.
A massive funnel cloud, with winds of up to 320kph, tore through Joplin with devastating force late on Sunday, leaving 123 people dead and hundreds more missing.
Joplin city manager Mark Rohr told reporters that rescue efforts were driven by an increasing sense of urgency, saying: “People’s lives are at stake.”
“We are still in search and rescue mode, and will be for the foreseeable future,” he said after the disaster flattened much of this town of 50,000 people.
Officials said the tornado ranks as the eighth-deadliest in US history and the deadliest single twister to strike the US since modern records began in 1950. It has already exceeded the toll of a tornado in Flint, Michigan in 1953 that left 116 people dead.
More than 8,000 structures in this town bordering Kansas and Oklahoma were damaged or destroyed when the twister came roaring through with just a 24-minute warning.
It cut a swath of destruction 6.4km long and more than a kilometer wide.
Brandon Hicks, 26, was on an out-of-town fishing trip when the twister struck, but came home to discover that his house and his brother’s house across the street were destroyed.
“We’re trying to get everything salvaged, before the next storm hits,” Hicks said as he sorted through the ruins.
Not far away, Lauren Miller, 23, wiped away tears as she sorted through family photographs picked from the wreckage of the home of one of her grandmothers.
The grandmother, who took shelter in the cellar with a neighbor as the house collapsed on top of them, survived.
However, Millar’s other grandmother, who had been out for dinner on Sunday evening to celebrate the high school graduation of a family friend, did not.
“It’s not easy,” Miller said. “I don’t think the worst has come yet. This is all adrenaline and coping.”
Some news reports said as many as 1,500 people were still unaccounted for, though there was hope that some might have found their way to homes of friends and relatives outside the immediate area.
On a hopeful note, 17 people were reported to have been pulled alive on Monday from under the debris and rubble following the tornado, although only two emerged alive on Tuesday.