| JOPLIN, Mo
JOPLIN, Mo May 24 U.S. President Barack Obama
said on Tuesday he will visit a devastated section of Missouri
where 116 people were killed by a monster tornado, as rescue
efforts resumed in the small city of Joplin.
Obama, making a statement from the U.S. ambassador's
residence in London as he begins a state visit to Britain, said
his message to those affected by storms in the U.S. Midwest is
that the federal government stands by them. He was to visit
Joplin on Sunday.
"All we can do is let them know that all of America cares
deeply about them and that we are going to do absolutely
everything we can to make sure that they recover," he said.
Obama is on a weeklong, four-nation tour in Europe and is
to return to Washington on Saturday.
"Like all Americans, we have been monitoring what's been
taking place very closely and have been ... heartbroken by the
images we've seen," Obama told reporters. The tornado that
raked Joplin on Sunday was the deadliest single twister in the
United States since 1953.[ID:nN23246952]
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said on Tuesday the official
death toll remained at 116, but he expected that to rise.
Violent storms that continued through Monday "dramatically
hurt" efforts to find survivors, with rain hampering sniffer
dogs. Two law enforcement officials were struck by lightning,
one very seriously, Nixon told CBS News.
But conditions early on Tuesday had improved and if that
held, he said, by afternoon "we'll have been through every foot
of this town."
"Pretty much everybody in town knows somebody they've
lost," Nixon told CBS. Authorities said there were also 400
people hurt, with many suffering severe internal injuries.
He said there were 17 rescues on Monday and authorities
hoped there would be more as they searched apartment complexes
housing many people.
Obama spoke to Nixon on Monday and again on Tuesday.
"We've offered him not only our condolences, but we've told
him that we will give him every ounce of resources the federal
government may have that we can bring to bear on this
situation," Obama told reporters.
'ASSURANCE AND COMFORT'
Obama said he will talk to families affected by the storm
when he visits the region and hopefully "pray with folks and
give them whatever assurance and comfort I can that the entire
country is going to be behind them."
He urged Americans in storm zones to heed warnings to seek
safety during a deadly spring in which storms across Southern
states last month killed more than 300 people and caused more
than $2 billion in property damage.
Survivors in Joplin told harrowing stories of seeking
shelter from winds of nearly 200 miles per hour (322 kph) in
walk-in coolers in restaurants and convenience stores, hiding
in bathtubs and closets, and of running for their lives as the
"We were getting hit by rocks, and I don't even know what
hit me," said Leslie Swatosh, 22, who huddled on the floor of a
liquor store with several others clutching one another as they
prayed. When the tornado passed, the store was destroyed but
those inside were all alive.
"Everyone in that store was blessed. There was nothing of
that store left," she said.
More severe storms were predicted for the region, in a year
that has brought tornadoes of record intensity across several
states. Further complicating the rescue effort, power lines
were downed, broken gas lines ignited fires, and cell phone
communications were spotty due to 17 toppled phone towers.
A number of bodies were found along the city's "restaurant
row," on the main commercial street, and a local nursing home
took a direct hit, said Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges.
Roaring along a path nearly six miles (9.5 km) long and
about 1/2 mile to 3/4 mile (1 km) wide, the tornado flattened
whole neighborhoods, splintered trees and flipped over cars and
trucks. Some 2,000 homes and many other businesses, schools and
other buildings were destroyed.
At St. John's hospital 180 patients cowered as the fierce
winds blew out windows and pulled off the roof. According to
AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert, X-ray films
from the hospital were found 70 miles (112 km) away.
Six of the confirmed fatalities occurred at the hospital
said spokeswoman Joanne Cox. Five were intensive-care patients
who were on ventilators that lost power when the tornado
struck, Cox said. The sixth was a visitor, but the
circumstances of that death were unclear.
The city's residents were given about 20 minutes' notice
when 25 warning sirens sounded Sunday evening, said Jasper
County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammers.
An estimated 20,000 homes and businesses were without power
The Joplin tornado was the latest in a string of powerful
twisters that has wreaked death and devastation across numerous
states, and it comes as much of the Mississippi River Valley is
under water from massive flooding.
The death toll of at least 116 topped the 115 people who
perished in a 1953 tornado in Flint, Michigan. A 1947 tornado
in Woodland, Oklahoma, killed 181 people.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Carey
Gillam; Editing by Vicki Allen)