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Tornado in Joplin, MO Kills 89

A powerful and unexpected tornado has killed at least 89 people, with the death toll expected to rise. The tornado cut right through the center of town, and residents had only 20 minutes of warning before it struck.

Much of the city’s south side was leveled, with churches, schools, businesses and homes reduced to ruins.

Fire chief Mitch Randles estimated that 25 percent to 30 percent of the city was damaged, and said his own home was among the buildings destroyed as the twister swept through this city of about 50,000 people some 160 miles south of Kansas City.

“It cut the city in half,” Randles said.

An unknown number of people were injured in the storm, and officials said patients were scattered to any nearby hospitals that could take them.

The St. John’s Regional Medical Center, one of the larger hospitals in the city, had to be abandoned because of structural concerns. The hospital eventually caught fire, and a triage unit set up outside had to be moved across the street.

The tornado was three-quarters of a mile wide at its height, according to the Joplin Globe. The pictures of the destruction at that site are astounding; it looks like a burned-out city from of the Civil War era. A number of storms hit the Midwest over the weekend, but this was easily the largest.

I don’t have a policy insight here; it was just a terrible tragedy. But I think you only have to live in the world to understand that storms and natural disasters appear to be getting bigger and more deadly in recent years. I’ve heard global warming described as “global weirdness,” with an increase in the frequency of major weather events. The tricky part is that no one storm can be linked to the change in the climate specifically. But the increase in the frequency and particularly the intensity of major weather events in general can be attributed to that. Nobody really invests any time in that kind of critique, and we just go on hearing about these awful events happening at a disturbing rate.

Or maybe it’s just the rapture, one day late.

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David Dayen

David Dayen