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Remembering the deadly Joplin tornado 12 years later

On May 22, 2011, a devastating tornado changed Joplin, Missouri, forever.

JOPLIN, Mo. — Monday marks 12 years since a deadly tornado changed the city of Joplin, Missouri, forever. 

To this day, the EF-5 tornado remains the 7th deadliest in U.S. history and the deadliest tornado of the 21st century. It killed around 160 people, injured more than 1,000 and caused nearly $3 billion in damage.

The above video was published May 23, 2021.

According to the National Weather Service of Springfield, Missouri, the tornado touched down at 5:34 p.m. on May 22, 2011, at the western edge of the city's limits. It quickly intensified as it tracked northeast, reaching up to a mile wide with winds in excess of 200 mph.

Credit: KSDK

It ravaged more than 7,000 buildings across its 22-mile track, including St. John's Medical Center, Greenbriar Nursing Home, several school buildings and countless homes, churches and businesses. 

Winds were powerful enough to loft debris more than 20,000 feet into the air. An NWS report documented the tornado's incredible violence: it toppled cell towers, ripped asphalt from parking lots, sent wood through concrete, embedded cardboard sideways into stucco and impaled a rubber hose through a tree.

Credit: KSDK

Houses were swept from their foundations, and steel-reinforced concrete porches and driveways were lifted and tossed. More than 15,000 vehicles were destroyed, from busses to tractor-trailers, NWS said. Some were tossed blocks, wrapped around trees or rolled into balls.

In the days following the tornado, hundreds of missing persons reports were filed and first responders worked tirelessly to rescue or recover people from the wreckage. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency for the Joplin area and sent in the Missouri National Guard, and multiple local agencies responded to help survivors and search for victims.

Then-President Barack Obama toured Joplin on May 29. "Obviously, the scene speaks for itself," he said while standing amid wreckage that stretched to the horizon. Addressing the city of Joplin, he said, "This is not just your tragedy, this is a national tragedy." 

In the 12 years since the tornado, Joplin has transformed.

Rebuilding didn't happen overnight, but the city averaged five new homes a week in the following 10 years. Schools and businesses have also been rebuilt stronger.

In 2021, former 5 On Your Side reporter Casey Nolen returned to Joplin a decade after he first visited in the wake of the tornado. Ten years later, he described a town of resilient survivors, still scarred but rebuilding strong.

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