Joplin, Missouri - A massive tornado blasted its way across southwestern Missouri on Sunday, flattening several blocks of homes and businesses in Joplin and leaving residents frantically scrambling through the wreckage.
At least 89 have died in the massive tornado, authorities say.
City manager Mark Rohr announced the number at a pre-dawn news conference outside the wreckage of a hospital that took a direct hit from Sunday's storm.
Rohr said the twister cut a path nearly six miles long and more than a half-mile wide through the center of town.
Much of the city's south side was leveled, with businesses, homes and restaurants reduced to ruins.
Search and rescue efforts are the current priority, including bringing people trapped food and water. Plans to clear debris and clean up the city are also pending, but that is a couple of days away, officials said. Officials expect that people are still trapped in buildings.
Two fire stations in Joplin have been destroyed, and rescuers are trying to work through their own damage while helping others.
The same storm system spawned twisters along a broad swath from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. At least one person was killed in Minneapolis.
In Joplin, hundreds of windows were blown out St. John's Regional Medical Center, where a few moments' notice gave staff time to hustle patients into hallways before the tornado struck. All were quickly evacuated into the parking lot to be moved to other hospitals in the region.
The storm spread debris about 60 miles away, with medical records, X-rays, insulation and other items falling to the ground in Greene County, said Larry Woods, assistant director of the Springfield- Greene County Office of Emergency Management.
Emergency management officials rushed heavy equipment to Joplin to help lift debris and clear the way for search and recovery operations. Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. Schools in the disaster zoned were flattened or severely damaged.
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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