A large tornado has struck Joplin in southwest Missouri, authorities said. Extensive damage has been reported on the south side of the city and along Rangeline Road, a major commercial thoroughfare in the city.
The tornado struck at about 5:45 p.m., according to reports transmitted to the Springfield branch of the National Weather Service. St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin has been severely damaged, authorities say, and scanner traffic indicates emergency responders from surrounding communities are converging on the city to assist with victims.
"This is really bad," one Joplin resident relayed to a family member in Andover via text message.
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." He said there are multiple reports of injuries and emergency responders are conducting search and rescue operations.
A spokeswoman at the hospital's sister facility, Cora Scott, said the tornado affected a patient wing. There were reports that windows were blown out.
The hospital system owns and operates multiple EMS crews throughout southwest Missouri and was sending them to Joplin to assist.
Survivors are reporting more than 20 semi-trailer trucks have been blown over by the tornado. Television stations have been knocked off the air and radio stations are asking for help from anyone who can lend a hand. Victims are trapped in the rubble of houses and in cars.
The roofs of two city fire stations collapsed.
Witnesses said the tornado appeared to have multiple vortices swirling within it as it moved through Joplin, according to weather service reports.
The thunderstorm that spawned the Joplin tornado actually developed in southeast Kansas, said Stephanie Dunten, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service. Hail as large as softballs was reported in Labette County, she said, but no tornadoes were reported.
"There were a few funnels, but no tornadoes touching the ground," Dunten said.
But as the storm moved into Missouri, she said, it came into contact with more moisture to draw energy from and rapidly intensified.