Inside St. John's Hospital, Joplin: Photos and a First-Hand Account

I posted these photos last night. I now have a first-hand account of conditions inside the hospital when the tornado struck. So, I'm bumping this back up to the top along with some additional comments. The death toll as of Friday evening is 132. Nine hundred were injured and more than 100 still missing. 

Dr. Kevin Kikta was on duty when the F-5 tornado struck St. John's Hospital. He has written a detailed account here. He states:

We heard a loud horrifying sound like a large locomotive ripping through the hospital.  The whole hospital shook and vibrated as we heard glass shattering, light bulbs popping, walls collapsing, people screaming,  the ceiling caving in above us, and water pipes breaking, showering water down on everything.  We suffered this in complete darkness, unaware of anyone else’s status, worried, scared. We could feel a tight pressure in our heads as the tornado annihilated the hospital and the surrounding area.  The whole process took about 45 seconds, but seemed like eternity...

“Like a bomb went off. ”  That’s the only way that I can describe what we saw next.  Patients were coming into the ED in droves.  It was absolute, utter chaos.  They were limping, bleeding, crying, terrified, with debris and glass sticking out of them, just thankful to be alive.  The floor was covered with about 3 inches of water, there was no power, not even backup generators, rendering it completely dark and eerie in the ED.  The frightening aroma of methane gas leaking from the broken gas lines permeated the air; we knew, but did not dare mention aloud, what that meant...

Things were no better outside of the ED. I saw a man crushed under a large SUV, still alive, begging for help; another one was dead, impaled by a street sign through his chest.   Wounded people were walking, staggering, all over, dazed and shocked.   All around us was chaos, reminding me of scenes in a war movie, or newsreels from bombings in Bagdad.

Original Posting

These photos were taken inside St. John's Hospital in Joplin after it was struck by the F-5 tornado.  They are used with permission.

The first photo is correctly oriented and demonstrates the calling card of an F-5 tornado: Objects embedded in concrete stucco [see comments below]. The objects in the background don't surprise me, I've observed similar "embeds" in the past. The chair in the foreground stunned me.

The other photos demonstrate the hellish conditions inside as the hospital took a direct hit from the tornado.
Main lobby. Even the second floor windows are blown out. 
The debris were blown through the hospital at high speed.

The situation in Joplin is just horrific. I'm posting these photos to demonstrate the power of an F-5 tornado and why it is absolutely essential to be in underground shelter (if at all possible) when a tornado warning is issued.

The death toll in Joplin has risen to 126. This surpasses the 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City in that killed 114 in Missouri disaster history.

It is the worst single tornado death toll since the Woodward, OK tornado of 1947 that killed 181.

For comparison, the worst single tornado death toll in U.S. history was the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925, that affected Missouri-Illinois-Indiana. That tornado killed 689 [thanks, Keith].


  1. About how many were killed in that 1925 tri-state tornado that you mention at the end of your post?

  2. Thanks, Keith. I meant to include that and I have added it.

  3. You need to change the information concerning the 1st picture, that IS NOT concrete. Rather it is "stucco" which is a thin layer of a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water, placed on top of an insulating material (sheet rock) as an exterior coating. This is very obvious in the picture where the chair legs are embedded. Still impressive damage but perpetuating the myth of EF5 damage.

    Greg Higgins

  4. The person who was there and sent the photos said "concrete" which is what I am reporting.

    I don't know what you mean by "myth of F-5 damage." This tornado was clearly an F-5.

  5. People can be mistaken about the type of construction and this is clearly the case. All you have to do is look closely at the picture and you can see that this IS NOT concrete. The walls at the Home Depot are concrete, this is stucco. You can alos reference the researsh from Texas Tech, Im not famaliar with any testing they have done that demonstrated plastic imbeded into concrete. Tim Marshall and others are there, I'm sure he would be interested in something like this.

    I totally agree, this was an EF5. The myth is that alot of damage that the uneducated attribute sometimes to EF4 or EF5 tornados is not caused by the wind but by the extremily shabby construction that tends to fail at far lower speeds, a fact that TTU identified when they proposed the new EF rating system. And again, I am aware that Tim Marshall and others have also identified this in the past.

    Kudos to you also for YOUR contributions to educating the public about severe weather!

    Greg Higgins


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