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UPDATE: Death toll from southwest Missouri tornado rises to 116

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 3:54 p.m. CDT; updated 7:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 23, 2011

JOPLIN — A massive tornado that tore a six-mile path across southwestern Missouri killed at least 116 people as it smashed the city of Joplin, ripping into a hospital, crushing cars and leaving behind only splintered tree trunks where entire neighborhoods once stood.

City Manager Mark Rohr announced the new death toll at a Monday afternoon news conference. He said seven people had been rescued, and Gov. Jay Nixon said he was, "optimistic that there are still lives out there to be saved."  By 7 p.m, the number of people rescued had risen to 17.

Search and rescue efforts continued throughout the city of 50,000, about 160 miles south of Kansas City. Much of its south side has been leveled, with churches, schools, businesses and homes reduced to ruins by winds of up to 198 mph.

Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer has estimated about 2,000 buildings were damaged. Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles estimated the damage covered a quarter or more of the city. He said his home was among those destroyed.

An unknown number of people were injured, and officials said patients were sent to any nearby hospitals that could take them.

Police officers staffed virtually every major intersection Monday as ambulances screamed through the streets. Rescuers involved in a door-to-door searches moved gingerly around downed power lines and jagged debris, while survivors picked through the rubble of their homes, salvaging clothes, furniture, family photos and financial records, the air pungent with the smell of gas and smoking embers.

Some neighborhoods were flattened and the leaves stripped from trees, giving the landscape an apocalyptic aura. In others where structures still stood, families found their belongings jumbled as if someone had picked up their homes and shaken them.


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