Last updated: 2:09 a.m. Monday, May 22. First posted at 6:52 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2011.
Authorities said a tornado struck a Joplin hospital Sunday, caused the roofs of two city fire stations to collapse and wiped out businesses, schools and homes. It will be some time before the number of fatalities is known.
Damage was widespread across part of the southwest Missouri city. John Campbell, operations director for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, confirmed fatalities in Joplin have been reported, but he did not yet have an exact number or specifics.
Shelter opens at university athletic center
The American Red Cross in Joplin has opened a shelter at Missouri Southern State University for people left homeless by Sunday's tornado.
Red Cross shelter manager Perry Elkins says people were already waiting at the university's Leggett & Platt Athletic Center as he drove up around 11 p.m.
Along with food and cots, the Red Cross has mental health counselors on hand at the shelter.
The Red Cross has been urging people to stay away from the search-and-rescue efforts in the city. But other kinds of volunteer help are welcome - such as a citizen who went to the shelter offering to act as a Spanish language translator.
Missouri Southern and the regional Red Cross chapter signed an agreement just three weeks ago to work together in emergency preparedness and response.
Schools among buildings damaged
The deadly tornado has caused "significant damage" to at least four school buildings in the Joplin School District.
Assistant superintendent Angie Besendorfer says school will be canceled Monday and probably for the next several days.
She says the twister damaged Joplin High, Cecil Floyd Elementary, Franklin Technology Center and the central office building. Some of the schools that escaped damage are being opened as shelters.
The high school graduation was held at Missouri Southern State University in the afternoon. Many people barely got home before the twister hit.
She says the district is "extremely worried" about its students and staff.
Hospital, phone service hit
Phone communications in and out of the city of about 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City were largely cut off.
St. John Regional Medical Center was evacuating nearly 100 patients after the hospital took a direct hit from the tornado, said Cora Scott, a spokeswoman at the hospital's sister facility. The patients were being taken to other hospitals.
Witnesses said windows were blown out on the top floors of the hospital.
Scott said she did not yet have any confirmation of deaths or injuries at the hospital. The Springfield hospital was sending ambulances and other resources to Joplin to help the response.
The storm was part of a series that battered the Midwest on Sunday night. Tornado warnings and watches were posted from Texas to Michigan.
Hiding in a closet
Jeff Lehr, a reporter for the Joplin Globe, said he was upstairs in his home when the storm hit but was able to make his way to a basement closet.
"There was a loud huffing noise, my windows started popping. I had to get downstairs, glass was flying. I opened a closet and pulled myself into it," he said. "Then you could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody's house. I came outside and there was nothing left."
He said people were walking around the streets outside trying to check on neighbors, but in many cases there were no homes to check.
"There were people wandering the streets, all mud covered," he said. "I'm talking to them, asking if they knew where their family is. Some of them didn't know, and weren't sure where they were. All the street markers were gone."
National Guard activated
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. Nixon said the state and low law enforcement agencies were coordinating search and rescue and recovery operations.
Missourians who need disaster information, shelter information or referrals are urged to call 211. The 211 service number is now available for most areas in Missouri. In areas where the 211 number is not operational, citizens can call 800-427-4626. Weather and emergency information also are available on the state of Missouri's website, MO.gov.
Safe & Well:
In lieu of being able to contact loved ones in the disaster areas, use the Red Cross Safe and Well site to list yourself as safe and to search for those listed.
Online coverage from Joplin:
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Weather Channel Livestream from Joplin (Periodic reports)