The tornado that devastated Joplin, killing 161 people and leaving much of the city in ruins, was a unanimous choice for The Associated Press' top story in Missouri for 2011, transcending a busy year of natural disasters, government bungling and the return of championship baseball to St. Louis.
All editors and publishers who responded to AP's survey ranked the storm as the top story. The May 22 tornado, an F5 monster that leveled a wide section of the city's south side while destroying a hospital and the city's public high school, was the nation's deadliest in six decades.
Casting the storm as a single story is misleading. In the days and weeks after the storm hit late on a Sunday afternoon, there were myriad stories of heroism, desperate searches for loved ones, help that arrived from around the world, and plans for the city's rebirth.
The tornado was but one in a season filled with weather-related misery.
The No. 2 story was the move by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the Illinois town of Cairo by intentionally breaching the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri. The explosion, which the corps said was necessary to relieve high water at Cairo, ripped a gaping hole in the levee and sent water rushing over thousands of acres of prime farmland.
The third-ranked story was the special session in Jefferson City, where lawmakers couldn't agree on a bill that would have reduced some existing tax credits and created new incentives for businesses, including for international exports at the St. Louis airport. The failure highlighted the complexities lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon are wrestling with as they try to create jobs and stimulate the state's economy.
It was also a busy year in sports, with the St. Louis Cardinals' Game 7 win over the Texas Rangers to claim the franchise's 11th World Series title chosen as the No. 4 story of the year.
The celebrations were tempered after the triumph, however, when manager Tony La Russa announced his retirement two days later. The Cardinals also lost slugger Albert Pujols, who became a free agent after the season and signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
The other stories chosen were:
- In college sports, Missouri announced its plans to join the Southeastern Conference. Soon after the news, athletic officials at Kansas hinted the historic rivalry may be over with Missouri's departure from the Big 12.
- Missouri lost a congressional seat as a result of the 2010 census, touching off a series of efforts to redraw legislative maps at the state and federal levels. Legislators later overrode Gov. Nixon's veto to enact a new congressional district map, which was challenged in court.
- Floods brought on by dam releases in the upper Midwest brought record summer crests across northwestern Missouri, topping levees and swamping crops.
- A tornado slammed into the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on April 22, but no one was killed or seriously hurt.
- Police searched for Kansas City toddler Lisa Irwin, who went missing in early October. Her parents claimed someone snatched the baby in the middle of the night.
- Gov. Nixon cited the Joplin tornado and flooding as part of the reason for more state budget cuts. State Auditor Tom Schweich later sued Nixon, alleging he had no constitutional basis to make the cuts.
Other stories gaining attention from editors in Missouri included moves by lawmakers to rewrite a new law imposing requirements on dog breeders, the repeal of a law restricting teachers from using Internet sites that allow exclusive access to students, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's exit from the governor's race after he acknowledged that he had once been a regular patron at a strip club.