Joplin reels from devastating ‘multi-vortex’ tornado

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 5/23/2011

Residents, rescue workers and government officials are finding that words continue to fail them in describing the ruin that once was the heart of Joplin, MO. Not even the National Weather Service has been able to classify the tornado that ripped through town around 5:45 p.m., Sunday, May 22.

Trucker Todd Arnold took this pic at the Flying J Sunday night.

Even 20-plus hours and counting following the touchdown that annihilated Rangeline Road and severely damaged other areas of the city, concrete facts were hard to come by.

The National Weather Service reported at 5:41 p.m., on Sunday, May 22, that there were numerous reports of tornadoes on the ground west of Joplin. Five short minutes later, the Weather Service reported a “multi-vortex tornado” near 13th and Rangeline Road as well as 22nd Street and Blackcat Road.

A multi-vortex tornado contains several vortices inside of, and part of the main vortex, according to the Weather Service.

The Weather Service’s real-time transmissions immediately reported widespread damage to homes and buildings with people trapped in the debris. By 7:03 p.m., the Weather Service was confirming 20 semis along with an unknown number of cars overturned on Interstate 44 between mile markers 10 and 12.

Among the buildings hit were St. John’s Regional Medical Center, Joplin High School, a pair of fire stations, big box stores such as Home Depot and Walmart and countless houses.

The tornado is described as having torn the town in half, with a swath of destruction nearly six miles long and half a mile up to a mile wide.

As of Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., the Weather Service still had not assigned an intensity rating to the tornado.

The initially reported death toll of 29 on Sunday evening inevitably climbed once the sun rose on Monday and shed light on the massive destruction. At press time, the death toll was reported 116, and still expected to climb as rescue workers proceeded with the tedious task of sifting through debris looking for survivors.

Those efforts were hampered throughout the day Monday by hail, high winds and heavy rain.

The Red Cross had established a shelter at Southwest Missouri State University, and the first few loads of initial relief supplies, ranging from water to batteries began to arrive.

In the meantime, late Sunday, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard – which had just previously served a stint helping in the flood-ravaged southeastern portion of Missouri. Early Monday, President Obama dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the area to coordinate federal relief efforts.

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