Residents of Joplin, Mo. only had 24 minutes of warning before a devastating tornado, estimated to have been one mile wide and four miles long, struck the town at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Winds at speeds estimated to be roughly 200 mph damaged 30 percent of the town and destroyed the hospital, high school and many other important buildings. The National Weather Service has confirmed that it was a five on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the strongest classification. Authorities reported that infrastructure such as firehouses and sewage treatment facilities were badly damaged by the winds.
Junior Kaley Blake has extended family living in Joplin, and went down the Monday following the storm to help with clean-up.
“When we first got there, it was really bad,” Blake said. “It was just miles of debris, houses were standing on a single wall. Every street in the city was damaged, obviously some more than others.”
Although her family was safe, Blake said it was hard to stomach everything she saw.
“I cried. You see this stuff on TV, but never think it will happen to you or anyone you know,” Blake said. “There were still bodies in the street, you could see people that had probably lived there most of their life looking completely lost. They were trying to figure out where they were going to sleep, kids were trying to figure out where they were going to go to school.”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency, and deployed troops from the Missouri National Guard to assist the city. The death toll is now at 139 and over 700 have been treated at hospitals, making the Joplin tornado the deadliest in the nation since 1953. There have been over 450 deaths attributed to tornadoes in 2011.
Blake said she plans on returning to help the efforts being organized by the government and American Red Cross.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but once finals are done I’m going back,” Blake said. “I filled out volunteer information with the Red Cross so I can go help however I can. If not for testing, I would probably still be down there. Everything is just in ruins.”
You can text “REDCROSS” to 90999 or visit the Greater Ozarks Red Cross’ website to donate.