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Joplin is Hit by Devastating Tornado

Search and rescue efforts are underway in Joplin following last night's deadly tornado. KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more...

Joplin officials say the death toll from last night's tornado has climbed to 89. It's estimated the massive twister destroyed or severely damaged as much as 30 percent of the town. Andy Boxell is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Springfield...

"We had several strong to severe thunderstorms that moved through eastern Kansas and southern and southwestern Missouri during the late afternoon and evening hours yesterday. The strongest of those, as you might imagine, moved through the Joplin, Missouri area during the 5 o'clock hour producing what appears to be at this point a very large and in many cases a devastating tornado that caused significant damage across portions of the city of Joplin."

According to Boxell, the Joplin tornado’s path wasn’t particularly long, especially for a tornado of this strength, but because of where it hit—in a heavily populated area, the result was devastating...

"Some of the pictures we've seen thus far do suggest the tornado was likely at least half a mile wide in some locations, so it was a very large, a very strong tornado."

St. John Regional Medical Center in Joplin evacuated nearly 100 patients after the hospital took a direct hit from the tornado. Some were moved to Freeman Hospital in Joplin while others were being moved to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield and to a hospital in Arkansas. At least two National Weather Service survey teams will head to Joplin early this morning to begin to assess the damage...

"They'll go out and evaluate the structures that were damaged. Meteorologists and engineers in the past have done studies to determine what kinds of wind speeds result in a particular amount of damage for a particularly built structure, whether it's a commercial building or a single-family home, an apartment complex, things like that, and so, by evaluating that damage, we should be able to start to get an idea that suggests how strong that tornado was."

The storm generated other tornadoes and caused wind damage as it moved southeast across portions of Lawrence, Southern Christian, Northern Stone and Taney Counties.There have been several devastating tornadoes across the U.S. this spring. Boxell says there’s no particular reason for that...

"We oftentimes see a lot of variability year end and year out in the amount of severe weather that occurs across the United States. This has certainly been an active year. The month of April was a record breaker for the most tornadoes ever recorded in the United States. We obviously had a major event that occurred across the South on April 27. We also had tornadoes in the Carolinas earlier on in the month and then some severe weather episodes across the Plains and the western portions of the Midwest as well, so it has been a very active spring but just part of the year end, year out variability that we oftentimes see with weather."

Southwest Missouri isn’t out of the woods yet. Boxell says the area has a chance for strong to severe storms through Wednesday.Meanwhile, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has activated the National Guard following Sunday’s storms. And President Barack Obama says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with state and local agencies in response to last night’s tornado. He says the federal government is prepared to provide help as needed.