Deadliest US tornado in 50 years kills dozens in Missouri town

CHICAGO // The deadliest tornado to hit the United States in more than 50 years cut a swath through a Missouri town, turning homes into rubble, destroying a school, ripping apart a hospital and killing at least 89 people on Sunday evening.

The tornado struck the town of Joplin near the border with Oklahoma and Kansas less than a month after a tornado outbreak left 354 dead across seven US states.

It was the deadliest of 46 tornadoes reported to the National Weather Service in seven states on Sunday.

Scott Meeker of the Joplin Globe newspaper said: "It's a war zone. "We've got hundreds of wounded being treated at Memorial Hall, but they were quickly overwhelmed and ran out of supplies, so they've opened up a local school as a triage centre."

The White House said in a statement yesterday that US President Barack Obama has been monitoring reports about the devastation and rescue efforts during his flight overnight on Sunday to Ireland.

"The president received multiple updates on the tornado damage throughout the course of the flight. He instructed his staff to keep him updated," the statement said.

Mr Obama earlier sent his "deepest condolences" to victims and said the federal government stood ready to help Americans as needed.

People in Joplin clawed through the rubble looking for friends, family and neighbours after the storm tore buildings apart and turned cars into crumpled heaps of metal.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and warned that the storms are not over.

"These storms have caused extensive damage across Missouri, and they continue to pose significant risk to lives and property," Mr Nixon said in a statement late on Sunday.

On Saturday, a tornado hit the east Kansas town of Reading, killing a man and damaging an estimated 80 per cent of Reading's structures.

Meanwhile, a tornado was also responsible for the death of one person in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sunday, authorities said.

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