The death toll from the tornado that flattened Joplin, Missouri on Sunday has now risen to 118. The National Weather Service says that makes it the single deadliest tornado in the U.S. since 1953. Calculating the financial impact could take weeks. But this year's tornado season is already on track to be the most expensive on record.
Sunday's massive tornado cut a 10-kilometer swath through Joplin, demolishing thousands of homes and businesses in the city of 50,000 people.
Search and rescue crews are still finding survivors, but Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says bad weather continues to hamper efforts. "This has been a dramatic and difficult time, which is going to continue for some period of time. The weather has not been helpful. It looks as if there continues to be thundershowers and perhaps even worse coming behind in waves."
With more than 450 deaths from multiple tornadoes so far this year, 2011 is already the second deadliest on record. The insurance industry says it's also on track to be the most expensive.
Calculating the financial cost will take weeks, but Michael Barry at the Insurance Information Institute says measuring the impact on lives will be more difficult. "Folks living in Joplin, Missouri today are probably wondering if they want to continue or can continue to live in that community," he said.
The risk modeling agency RMS says insured costs for April alone could reach $6 billion, compared to $9.5 billion for all of last year.
President Barack Obama, who has been receiving updates during his six-day tour of Europe, called the destruction heartbreaking. Speaking from London, Mr. Obama promised to visit tornado-ravaged areas on Sunday, to assure residents that the federal government stands by them. "We're going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet. That's my commitment, and that's the American people's commitment," he said.
Despite extensive damage to nearly one third of the city, insurance information spokesman Michael Barry believes Joplin will be able to rebuild, much like other tornado damaged cities have in the past. "Greensburg, Kansas, a couple of years ago was literally wiped off the map due to a tornado. It did not have the loss of life that we saw today in Joplin, Missouri, but nonetheless, Greensburg, three to four years out, was completely rebuilt. And so there is hope on what is otherwise a very dark day in Joplin," he said.
The tragedy that struck Joplin is just the latest in a string of deadly twisters that have battered the central United States. All of this at a time when large areas of the Mississippi River Valley remain flooded, and the start of the 2011 hurricane season is just a few days away.