Officials in the Midwestern U.S. town of Joplin, Missouri, say the death toll from Sunday's massive tornado stands at 116 and that search efforts continue for possible survivors trapped in rubble.
Search and rescue teams are conducting their third sweep through the nearly 10 kilometer-long and one-kilometer wide swath of destruction left by the tornado. They are working as quickly as possible while weather conditions remain relatively stable. More storms are forecast for the area.
Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles said there are areas with large piles of rubble that might hold survivors.
“We are still finding individuals. We did rescue seven individuals from underneath rubble yesterday and, of course, we are also finding deceased folks, as well, said Randles. "It is just really incredible the fact that we are still finding people. We are hoping to find more folks and that is why we are doing these searches. We want to make every opportunity that we can to find everybody that is in the rubble and that has survived to this point.”
Randles said the current sweep involves a slower pace than previous searches and that he plans a fourth search, possibly on Wednesday, using specially trained dogs.
“We are searching every structure that has been damaged or destroyed in a more in-depth manner," he said. "I have dogs and dog handlers coming from all over the country to help us in that effort.”
Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr said the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations are helping people who were left homeless by the twister and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is on hand to help.
“Joplin is a great city. We have suffered a devastating loss," said Rohr. "We will recover and we will recover strongly and we have a lot of help and a lot of volunteers to facilitate that.”
The tornado that struck Joplin was classified by the National Weather Service as an F-4, with winds of more than 300 kilometers per hour. It lasted only 20 minutes, but it killed more than 100 people, injured more than 400 others, and destroyed or heavily damaged some 2,000 homes, businesses, churches and a hospital. Authorities have registered more than 1,700 calls about missing people and they hope to resolve most of those cases soon, as victims are identified and survivors come forth and reunite with loved ones.
This was the worst tornado to strike the United States in 60 years. It was the latest in a wave of violent storms that have swept midwestern and southern states in recent weeks, leaving more than 300 people dead and causing more than $2 billion dollars in damage.
President Barack Obama plans to visit the devastated area next week, after he returns from an official trip in Europe.