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Deadly tornadoes batter central US

Tornadoes ripped through parts of the Midwest on Sunday killing at least one person in Minneapolis and an unknown number of others in a Missouri town where a hospital was damaged.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Tornadoes ripped through parts of the Midwest on Sunday, killing dozens in a Missouri town where a hospital was hit.

Damage was widespread across part of the southwest Missouri city of Joplin. Many streets on the city's south side were described as impassible, littered with downed trees and utility poles.

Ryan Nicholls with the Springfield-Green County Office of Emergency Management confirmed 24 fatalities in the town to the and The Weather Channel.

Another official said the toll could go much higher. "At this point we know we are up into the 30 range," Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges told Reuters by telephone when asked about the deaths.

"We have heard up into the over-100 (range), but ... I don't think anyone has a good count right now," he said of the casualties. He also said that 11 bodies had been recovered from just one location.

Phone communications in and out of the city of about 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City were largely cut off.

Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer said the St. John's Regional Medical Center on the city's south side took a "direct hit." Witnesses said windows were blown out on the top floors of the hospital. Cora Scott, a spokeswoman at the hospital's sister facility, said patients were being evacuated to other area hospitals.

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Scott said she did not yet have any confirmation of deaths or injuries at the hospital. The Springfield hospital was sending ambulances and other resources to Joplin to help the response.

Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard in response to the storms.

Missouri National Guard Maj. Tammy Spicer said more than 100 members of the 35th Engineer Brigade, which has a battalion based in Joplin, were expected to immediately report for duty to aid in search and rescue efforts, clear roads, provide security and help with radio communications. The guard's armory in Joplin suffered only minor damage but was without electricity Sunday night, Spicer said. One of the challenges facing the guard was simply getting in touch with all of its members in the area, she said.

"This just looks like a horrific event," Spicer said. "We want to help the community — both the emergency response forces there and the citizens."

President Barack Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was working with state and local agencies.

Obama issued a statement Sunday night sending condolences to families of those who died in storms in Joplin and across the Midwest. He commended the "heroic" efforts of those who are responding to the disaster.

The president says the federal government is prepared to provide help as needed.

The storm was part of a series that battered the Midwest on Sunday night. Tornado warnings and watches were posted from Texas to Michigan.

Jeff Lehr, a reporter for the Joplin Globe, said he was upstairs when the storm hit but was able to make his way to a basement closet.

"There was a loud huffing noise, my windows started popping. I had to get downstairs, glass was flying. I opened a closet and pulled myself into it," he said. "Then you could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody's house. I came outside and there was nothing left."

He said people were walking around the streets outside trying to check on neighbors, but in many cases there were no homes to check.

"There were people wandering the streets, all mud covered," he said. "I'm talking to them, asking if they knew where their family is. Some of them didn't know, and weren't sure where they were. All the street markers were gone."

Resident Tom Rogers walked around viewing the damage with his daughter.

"Our house is gone. It's just gone," Rogers told The Joplin Globe. "We heard the tornado sirens for the second time. All of a sudden, everything came crashing down on us. We pulled our heads up and there was nothing. It was gone."

Minneapolis, Kansas storms
In Minneapolis, city spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the death was confirmed by the Hennepin County medical examiner. She had no other immediate details. Only two of the 29 people injured there were hurt critically.

Though the damage covered several blocks in Minneapolis, it appeared few houses were totally demolished. Much of the damage was to roofs, front porches that had been sheared away, or smaller items such as fences and basketball goals.

In Wisconsin, a powerful storm caused significant damage in La Crosse, tearing roofs from homes and sending emergency responders to search damaged buildings for anyone trapped inside, officials said. La Crosse County sheriff's dispatcher Tim Vogel described the damage as "significant" but told The Associated Press there were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Those storms followed a tornado Saturday night that swept through a small eastern Kansas town, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes, as severe thunderstorms pelted the region with hail that some residents described as the size of baseballs, authorities said Sunday.

Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson identified the victim as Don Chesmore, 53, of Reading. He was in a mobile home that flipped. He was taken to a hospital in Emporia, where he was pronounced dead.