UPDATE 1-Powerful tornadoes kill at least 31 in U.S. Midwest

Mon May 23, 2011 12:27am EDT

Related Topics

* Death toll estimates may top 100, says Missouri coroner

* Missouri governor declares state of emergency

* Major damage to hospital, main street in Joplin (Recasts with Missouri death toll, adds quotes, details)

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, May 22 (Reuters) - Tornadoes tore through parts of the U.S. Midwest on Sunday, killing at least 30 people in the Missouri town of Joplin and causing one death in Minneapolis as well as causing extensive property damage.

The Joplin deaths came from a powerful tornado that plowed through the southwestern Missouri town of some 50,000 people late on Sunday afternoon.

"At this point we know we are up into the 30 range," Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges told Reuters by telephone when asked about the deaths.

"We have heard up into the over-100 (range), but ... I don't think anyone has a good count right now," he said of the casualties. He also said that 11 bodies had been recovered from just one location.

The storms continued to build on the violent weather this spring in the United States, which saw more than 330 deaths last month as tornadoes swept seven states. That included 238 deaths in Alabama alone on April 27 as twisters battered Tuscaloosa and other towns.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon earlier on Sunday said on CNN that an unknown number of people had perished, saying, "We don't have any numbers, but we have had confirmation that there have been deaths."

Nixon declared a state of emergency and announced he was ordering Missouri National Guard troops be deployed to help state troopers and other agencies respond to storms that he said "have caused extensive damage across Missouri."

Whole neighborhoods as well as a hospital in Joplin were badly damaged, according to authorities and local television footage.

"It's done quite a bit of damage," a police officer in Joplin told Reuters by telephone. "It hit quite a few parts of town."

Missouri State Highway Patrol dispatcher Charles Bradley said the extent of the damage is still unknown as a variety of state and local agencies send help to the area.

"There is a hospital that was majorly damaged," Bradley said of Joplin's damage. "It's kind of like Tuscaloosa again."

BUILDINGS LEVELED

Denise Bayless, 57, who lives north of the city, told Reuters by telephone that many buildings on Main Street were leveled and the town's only high school was burning.

She and her husband were at church when their adult son called to say the tornado was hitting his house, and the couple got in their car to drive to his aid.

"We just had to weave in and out of debris. Power lines were down everywhere, and you could smell gas. It was scary," she said.

Carla Tabares and her husband Tony were in the Outback Steakhouse in Joplin when the tornado hit. They had just run through raindrops into the restaurant and sat down to order when a waitress told them a tornado was headed their way.

"It was really awful, really scary," said Tabares.

She and her husband squeezed into the restaurant's cooler with several families and children in the dark, hearing the howling of the winds outside. When they emerged, their building was largely unscathed but several other nearby restaurants and businesses suffered severe damage.

"I'm just thankful we got out alive and I really feel sorry for the people who didn't," said Tabares.

Another tornado ripped through the north end of Minneapolis and some suburbs on Sunday, tearing roofs off dozens of homes and garages, killing one person and injuring at least 30 others, authorities said.

The twister struck Sunday afternoon and plowed across a three-to-five-mile (five-to-eight km) area in a northeasterly direction, Assistant City Fire Chief Cherie Penn told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Storms knocked out electricity to about 22,000 homes and businesses in the area, but power was restored to several thousand customers within hours, according to Xcel Energy Inc spokeswoman Mary Sandok.

Tornadoes overnight on Saturday in northeast Kansas killed one person and damaged some 200 structures. A state of emergency was declared for 16 counties, state officials said. (Reporting by Kevin Murphy, Carey Gillam, David Bailey and Colleen Jenkins; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton, Peter Bohan and Eric Walsh)

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