JOPLIN, Mo. (Reuters) — At least 89 people have died in a monster tornado that left a path of destruction nearly a mile wide through the heart of Joplin, Missouri, and directly hit the small Midwestern city's main hospital, local officials said Monday.
U.S. weather officials said the tornado that hit at dinnertime on Sunday may have been the single deadliest in the country since 1953.
Rescue crews from throughout the region worked all night and into Monday morning in the town of about 50,000 people, searching for anyone still alive in the rubble.
An unknown number of people were injured and officials said they expected to find more bodies as they dig through collapsed homes and businesses.
The tornado blew the roof off St. John's hospital where about 180 patients cowered, and some 2,000 homes and other buildings were destroyed. It flattened whole neighborhoods, splintered trees, flipped cars and trucks upside down and into each other.
A number of bodies were found along the city's ``restaurant row,'' and a local nursing home took a direct hit, Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges said.
``It is a significant tragedy,'' said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. ``We're working on all cylinders. We've got to get an active and complete search ... to make sure if there is anyone still alive in the rubble that we get them out.''
The city's residents were given about 20 minutes notice when 25 warning sirens sounded throughout the southwest Missouri town around 6 p.m. CDT, said Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammers.
But the governor said many people likely were unable to get to shelter in time. ``The bottom line was the storm was so loud you probably couldn't hear the sirens going off.'' He declared a state of emergency and called out the Missouri National Guard to help.
``The loss of life is incredible,'' said Joplin Mayor Mike Woolston. ``We're still trying to find people. The outlook is pretty bleak.''
Two refrigerated trucks were brought in to serve as a make-shift morgue at a local university and more were being brought in to handle the additional bodies expected, the coroner said.