Just one month after twisters flattened several North St. Louis County homes and businesses, Mother Nature's wrath struck Missouri with what is being called the one of the most deadly tornadoes in state history.
Sunday night, a tornado ripped through the town of Joplin, about 310 miles from St. Louis in Southwest Missouri, leaving 116 dead and 400 injured. The number of deaths are expected to increase as emergency responders sift through the rubble.
The tornado hit St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin and caused significant destruction throughout the area.
“We don’t know whether the Joplin tornado will be the worst in Missouri history,” said Ben Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s (NWS) St. Louis Office. “It’s too early to say because we don’t have all the information yet.”
Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Joplin and deployed the National Guard. Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) is coordinating state and local responders through regional mutual aid agreements and requests filed with the agency.
Four firefighter/paramedics along with Assistant Chief Brian Hendricks from the Mehlville Fire Protection District left for Joplin Monday night, Chief Tim White said. The firefighters are part of a strike team deployed by St. Louis County that include first responders from all over the region. The team will specialize in search and rescue and are specially trained in trench rescue and urban collapse.
"Basically, when they find a structure that has been compromised or completely level, they'll do shoring so they can tunnel into the wreckage and look for victims," White said. "They will stabilize the structure before entering it."
It’s been a busy severe weather year for the St. Louis area.
On April 22, tornadoes hit Maryland Heights, Bridgeton and other North St. Louis counties, forced Lambert St. Louis International Airport to close and caused significant damage to the surrounding region. No one died in that tornado.
On New Year’s Eve, a tornado swept through Sunset Hills and Fenton caused major damage to area homes, businesses and churches. A Fenton resident died of injuries she received during that tornado after winds lifted her car off the ground and threw it into a concrete median.
NWS meteorologist Ben Miller said Missouri's tornado season is from March through June.
“But we can and do have tornadoes at other times of the year like we did on New Year’s Eve, and storms typically tend to be a lot stronger during the colder months,” he said.
Pat Guinan, a climatologist at the University of Missouri Extension’s Commercial Agriculture Program, said Missouri averages 32 tornadoes a year.
He said the state’s deadliest tornado occurred in St. Louis on May 27, 1896 when 137 people were killed and 800 injured.
Listed below are Missouri tornado statistics for the last five years from the National Weather Service.2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 Total MO Tornadoes 65 45 93 42 102 32 Deaths 4* 3 19 3 13 1 Injuries 19 11 232 3 273 7
* There was one death that occured in 2011 from the New Year's Eve tornado that hit Fenton in 2010.