A tornado flattened buildings, snapped trees and tossed tractor-trailers like toys as it touched down in Joplin, Missouri, on Monday afternoon NZT, causing an unknown number of deaths and injuries.
The twister was part of a line of severe weather that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, prompting tornado watches and warnings that stretched from Wisconsin to Texas. High winds and possible tornadoes struck Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota, leaving at least one person dead and injuring nearly two dozen others, police said.
Authorities in Joplin were contending with multiple reports of people trapped, as well as significant structural damage to St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was hit directly by the tornado, city officials said. CNN affiliate KSHB said there were reports of fires throughout the hospital.
One facade of the building made of glass was completely blown out, and authorities were evacuating the medical center, said Ray Foreman, a meteorologist with KODE in Joplin.
Residents over 100kms away from Joplin in Dade County were finding X-rays from St. John’s in their driveways, said Foreman, indicating the size and power of the twister.
Parts of the city were unrecognizable, according to Steve Polley, a storm chaser from Kansas City who described the damage as “complete devastation.”
The tornado cut a path of destruction through the heart of the city, hitting heavily populated areas, Foreman said.
“We’ve had numerous vehicles picked up and thrown into houses,” he said.
At least seven overturned tractor-trailers were seen on one stretch of Interstate 44 west of the city, said Michael Ratliff, who has been chasing storms for eight years. Ratliff said the possible tornado was “rain wrapped,” making it impossible to see as it tore what he estimated to be a half-mile to three-quarter-mile path of damage.
Officials did not know an exact number of injuries reported. Lynn Ostot, the spokeswoman for the city of Joplin confirmed “some fatalities,” but did not have an exact number. The Joplin mayor has declared a local disaster.
Elsewhere, tornadoes were spotted in Forest Lake, north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and near Harmony, around 200kms to the south. And in Minneapolis, witnesses reported numerous downed trees and neighborhoods without power.
Widespread damage from severe weather was reported across Minneapolis on Sunday.
Minneapolis police spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the storm left behind one fatality in the city, with 22 people reported hurt. One hospital, North Memorial Medical Center, said it had treated 18 people for minor injuries.
“This is the first time we can remember a tornado touched down in this area,” he told CNN. “They aren’t usually in the heart of the city.”
In Anoka County, north of the city, sheriff’s dispatcher Linda Hamilton said authorities were receiving reports of roofs blown off, trees down and gas leaks. Hamilton said the worst damage appeared to have been in Fridley, on the northern outskirts of the metro area.
Curby Rogers said warning sirens sounded near her northwest Minneapolis home Sunday afternoon. Shortly afterward, the light rain that had been falling was whipped into sheets by heavy wind, and power went out.
“We could hear doors busting open through the house,” Rogers said. “There was a lot of commotion, and then it was silent.”
When she and a visiting friend emerged from their house, the streets were blocked by debris and a tree had fallen on her car. Around the corner, the damage was “a million times worse,” with some houses split in half.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers warned that the storms were not over for the Midwest.
“You need to have that NOAA radio on tonight everywhere from Wisconsin to Texas and Oklahoma,” he said.
Forecasters said the system that struck Minnesota was separate from another storm that struck eastern Kansas on Saturday, killing one person and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes there.