Washington, D.C. — The death toll from Sunday's tornado has risen to 116 as rescue crews pulled bodies from a debris field three-quarters of a mile wide and six miles long.
Seventeen people were found buried alive, many in the rubble of destroyed homes and businesses, providing joy to an otherwise grim recovery process hampered by heavy rain and lightning.
Many of the dead were pulled from Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other businesses devastated along the city's main business roadway leading to downtown Joplin.
Other bodies were recovered from homes and apartment buildings ravaged by one of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history.
Authorities said it is likely more bodies will be found and that the death toll will climb even higher. They said the tornado recorded winds at nearly 200 miles per hour.
More than 1,150 people with injuries or a medical condition connected to the tornado were treated at local and nearby hospitals.
The tornado significantly damaged the town's high school and a hospital, where four patients died in the storm.
Mayor Mike Woolston urged sightseers to stay away from Joplin, and let the search and rescue workers do their job.
"I fear someone will die because gawkers are getting in the way of our first responders," he said. "If you don¹t live here, stay away."
City Manager Mark Rohr confirmed at a press conference that police were investigating incidents of looting.
Standing by his side, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said every effort would be made "to make sure every piece of property is protected."
Nixon declared a state of emergency on Sunday, dispatching 110 state troopers and 250 National Guardsmen to Joplin to help in the recovery.
Emergency personnel made three sweeps of the tornado's aftermath Monday in search of survivors.
"We¹ll cover every foot of this town," said the governor.
Rohr said more than 40 emergency-response agencies have sent assistance to Joplin. More than 20 shelters were set up acoss the city to accommodate the homeless and those without power.
The governor said he spoke Monday morning with President Barack Obama, and Obama pledged his complete support.
Nixon, speaking at the National Guard Armory with thunder reverberating in the background, vowed that the city would recover from the devastation.
He said this will be one of those times in Missouri's history that "demonstrates the strenght of character that Missouri is famous for. We will rebuild this city."
Rod Chappell, coroner of Jasper County, announced he has set up a temporary morgue to identify the dead. He said medical personnel will use DNA, dental records and x-rays to identify the victims.
Chappell said the process will take four to five hours for each body. The next of kin will be the first notified. The bodies will then be released to mortuaries.
The tornado tore a path through the middle of Joplin. Much of the city¹s
south side was leveled, with churches, nursing homes, schools, businesses
and homes reduced to ruins by winds approaching 200 mph.
St. John's Regional Medical Center took a severe hit. The nine-story building was evacuated immediately after the tornado struck because of structural damage.
Gary Pulsipher, medical center president, said there were 183 patients in the hospital at the time.
C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin's public schools, estimated structural damage will exceed $100 million at Joplin High School, Irving Elementary, Franklin Technology Center, Cecil Floyd Elementary and East Middle School. He said the buildings were insured, and should be ready for the opening of school in the fall.
More than 14,000 homes and businesses were without electricity the day after the tornado, and residents were advised to boil water before drinking it.
Doug Cramer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Mo., said a preliminary survey of the debris field indicates Joplin was hit by a right-turning, EF-4 tornado with wind speeds estimated
at 190 to 198 mph.
Wally Kennedy is a reporter for the Joplin, Mo., Globe. Contact him at email@example.com