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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Tornado Slams Joplin, Missouri

Aired May 22, 2011 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Again, breaking news out of Joplin, Missouri. I'm Don Lemon, every one.

Just a short time ago, a powerful tornado leveled a big chunk of the city, and some of the worst damage is at the St. John's Hospital and the surrounding neighborhoods. Almost nothing left standing.

Some of the first pictures coming in from CNN iReporters and storm chasers. And also this video, and I want to warn you, you're going to see children here, you're going to see people who don't know what's going on, trying to figure out what's happened here, frightened people. It's from chaserTV.com.

Rob, roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And then just a short time ago, storm chaser, his name is Steve Polly caught out in the middle of this driving on the interstate. He said he didn't think he was going to make it. He said it was touch and go for a while. These videos he took at a gas station. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right.

Our Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist joins us now.

Jacqui, some officials in Missouri reporting that there are at least as many as 24 fatalities from this tornado that touched down. And they are saying there's widespread damage across the city's south side.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Don. It was just an incredible tornado that touched down just before 6:00 local time there. A multi-vortex tornado touched down in downtown Joplin and just stripped a path of destruction through the city.

There are many buildings which have been damaged. Homes have been flattened and trees have been broken off and stripped from their bark. And, unfortunately, we're concerned that that death toll is going to go up and many, many more injuries in addition to that.

This was a large wedge tornado, as wide as maybe a half of a mile to three-quarters of a mile wide that it moved on through and you think it's likely that there's an ef-3 or other tornado which is what we would call a major tornado. And so it moved through a very populated area. Large scale search and rescue continues to go on at this hour. There are reports of people who are trapped in their homes. There are reports of people who have been trapped in their vehicles as well.

So this is going to be ongoing tonight. Now that the sun is going down. It's going to be hard to find these people. Communication is very spotty. Power is out through many, many parts of the city here. And there's so many people injured. There's damage to the hospital. They have to set up a triage center to try and help those walking wounded people and try and help those out in this situation. So it's just an incredible situation unfolding in Joplin, Missouri. Unfortunately, it's very reminiscent of what just happened a few weeks ago in northern Alabama.

LEMON: Yes, absolutely, Jacqui Jeras.

And to our viewers, here's the reality of it. 24 fatalities reported so far. Widespread damage across the city from a tornado touching down. They don't know how many fatalities, how many injuries in all of this. People there are being called the walking wounded. And as Jacqui said evacuating a hospital. They set up a mobile facility.

Missouri Department of Transportation is saying I-44 is closed down because of damage. And here's what we're hearing from the governor of Missouri. Jay Nixon. He said significant law enforcement assets and the National Guard are now being deployed. Now being deployed. And so we're going to try to get all those people on the ground. When you hear the National Guard being deployed.

Chad Myers, our meteorologist who is joining us by phone, you know that this is big trouble.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST (via telephone): Well, you just don't have enough people involved locally to make it all happen without bringing in people from around the state or for that matter around the country.

You need law enforcement, you need doctors, you need nurses. When you have this much destruction that we know moving through Joplin, and when we get Bethany Scutti, our iReporter back on the line, Don, I can get a chance, I want you -- because she has been driving around Joplin. I want you to ask her, where literally north or south of the city does the damage begin, because she was out of the damage and then drove and walked into it. There are people out there worrying about their loved ones, and they can literally cannot get a hold of their loved ones now. The cell service was just overwhelmed. The law enforcement overwhelmed. Everyone trying to help everyone else, but you know, at some point in time, you have to at this point at least in the next few hours, you have to help yourself.

You cannot count on anyone being there for the next few hours. Help yourself, help your neighbors, get everything battened down and literally don't move unless they tell you to move. Because I don't believe, and Jacqui Jeras can help me out on this, I don't believe there's any more weather coming through there behind it.

At many times, you can get a tornado like this, and then an hour or two hours later another big storm comes through to just do even more damage and blow things around that are already broken. So it's one of those things, take care of yourself, but now that better more equipped, larger numbers of help will be coming that way, now is time to take care of yourself. Eventually by tomorrow morning, those assets will be there.

LEMON: Hey, Jacqui and Chad, stand by.

Chad, you mentioned the iReporter Bethany Scutti. She's on the phone now. The lines went down for a while, and we couldn't get in touch with her. These things happened when you're in an emergency situation like this.

Bethany, have you made your way to the hospital?

BETHANY SCUTTI, IREPORTER (via telephone): Yes, I'm standing right in front of it right now.

LEMON: OK, what are you seeing?

SCUTTI: It is devastated. It is still standing, but it looks like every window is blown out. There's debris everywhere. Trees are down. Cars were stacked on top of each other and right at the front door, it is a mess.

LEMON: Are you seeing any patients?

SCUTTI: I did not see patients. They have a triage. They have several triage centers for that. There are some tents set up across. I sent some pictures. I'm not sure if you got them. I'm going to make my way back over there. They took them to some of the hospitals. I did talk to an RN who said that they lost four patients, and there's equipment around. There's a lot of scurrying. They are gathering things and just trying to gather up what they can.

LEMON: Hey, Bethany, wow, listen. Do me -- that's a picture of the hospital. Is this Bethany's picture? Or is this from -- no, OK. This is from one of our affiliate. That's the hospital.

Bethany, do me a favor. Describe to our viewers what that hospital looks like? How big it is? How tall it is? Is there a parking structure on the side, and the damage that you're seeing?

SCUTTI: OK.

The hospital as I'm standing in front of it has about seven stories on one building, and then on its right has another building attached to it that has a couple more stories to it. Every window looks to be blown out. There's debris hanging out of the windows. The main entrance sign is a mess. The glass is blown out. There are just cars stacked all over the parking lot. There are still cars parked in front as if they are going into the hospital, but they are destroyed.

There's still a fountain going, and it's interesting. And as we talked there is lightning going across the sky, which is on the next to me as I'm looking at the destruction of the hospital.

LEMON: So Bethany, just a little bit of feedback there, so you said, obviously you're friends with some doctors and hospital staff and you're saying that you saw an RN, you spoke to an RN and that RN said they lost four patients?

SCUTTI: She did. She said that there were four patients that they lost, and there could be more that she wasn't aware of. Most people wouldn't say anything when I tried to talk to them, but she did mention that they lost four patients.

LEMON: OK.

SCUTTI: Hey, Bethany, don't go anywhere. Our iReporters on top of it. And we appreciate our iReporters here at CNN.

And if you have any pictures, you can send it to iReport.com -- iReport@CNN.com. iReport@CNN.com.

Listen, I want to go to the person who shot those pictures.

Hey, Rob, put those pictures back up for me if you can.

Jamie Green. She is with "The Wichita Eagle."

The pictures that you're looking at on your screen of a hospital.

Jamie, walk us through these pictures, please.

JAIME GREEN, IREPORTER (via telephone): OK. Well, I'm not looking in the pictures right now so let me get out of there. But they were taken -- well, let me backtrack and tell me that I'm part of "The Wichita Eagle," and I was actually in Joplin, Missouri shooting a wedding for a friend, and -- and my best friend and her 6 year-old- daughter and I got caught on our way back from the wedding.

And so we were actually -- we were about a quarter of a mile away from St. John's Hospital so some of the pictures that you see are of St. John's Hospital, which I understand has been badly damaged.

And then we wanted to get out of town pretty quickly so we actually waited there a couple of hours, about an hour, I guess, and then we weren't sure what to do until we finally we are able to leave and then I shot some photos on my way out of town.

I think you might see a couple of photos of pickup trucks with what looks like some people in the back. I wasn't sure of their condition. Not really sure. I saw a couple of pickup trucks like that. We saw several cars with no windows driving around. And there's tones of power lines down. Trees snapped. Roofs gone and what not, just -- just chaos. And I've seen a lot of tornado damage, and this is pretty bad.

LEMON: When you say people in the back of pickups, were these people who are in the hospital, or were these people who were on their way to the hospital?

GREEN: They were on their way to a hospital and not St. John's. I believe it's Freeman Hospital. I saw two different pickups trying desperately to meander in and out of traffic, you know. And both of those pickups had what look to be like two emergency volunteers in the bed of the truck, kind of, you know, over them, and both of the pickups had two people in the back.

LEMON: That's the picture we're looking at right now. My gosh, Jamie, that's unbelievable, and you must just stand there wanting to help people and realizing there's not much you can do.

GREEN: Absolutely, and you know, and -- and, you know, I was surprised. We were able to get in and out of traffic pretty quickly, and those people in the truck, people were very courteous obviously, and they were able to move out of the way, and you know, and the truck, they kept on honking, and it looked like it was going to the hospital hopefully to get them some care.

LEMON: Hey, Jamie, listen, don't go anywhere. We're going to continue talking about these pictures. But I want to say, this is going so fast on Twitter. I'm monitoring my Twitter feed and someone sent a message.

And I believe it was an official-looking message that said, if there are any available medical personnel to please head to Joplin, Missouri to help out. It's going so quickly, it went down to my feed.

But I want to say again here on CNN, if there are any available medical professionals, that's according to someone here on Twitter, and to me it looked like an official tweet, to head to Joplin, Missouri, to help out.

Also FEMA is standing by saying they are standing ready to support Missouri after the tornadoes and the severe weather. That e-mail and that is just crossing the wire here into CNN.

It is unbelievable. We have Jamie Green on the phone who shot those pictures. She was working, shooting a wedding, shooting wedding photographs and then got caught up in this.

Also, one of the storm chasers, same thing. He said it just sort of came up on them. And then we have one of our iReporters on the ground at the hospital, Bethany Scutti, and she's saying the windows are blown out and she can't believe it.

Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras with us as well, also Chad Myers and much, much more as these new pictures come in and we begin to uncover exactly what happened in Joplin, Missouri, and it's not good.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Joplin, Missouri, hit by a devastating tornado tonight. It just tore through the place. A big part of the city damaged. Homes are gone. There are reports of as many as 24, if not more people who have died from the storm.

I want to get to Jamie Green now who shot these amazing pictures, and what may be one of the pictures that define this whole store. It is of the hospital, St. John Hospital in Joplin, Missouri. The windows blown out and the place really in shambles.

Jamie, when you took that picture, what were you thinking?

GREEN: Well, I just wanted to document it. You know, it was kind of tough because we were dealing with our own issues. You know, it's one of the unusual times that, you know, I was living the spot news event, you know what I mean. So I was with my best friend and her 6-year-old daughter, and we had just gone to her friend's -- I'm sorry her cousin's wedding, so everybody, you know, all the people -- most all of the people we love in the world were out there somewhere so we were trying desperately to figure out where they were. So pretty scary times, but I wanted to make sure I documented what was in front of me at that point.

LEMON: And this other picture, Jamie, unbelievable. And Jamie works for "The Wichita Eagle." She's a photographer.

This one, people who are desperately trying to get to the hospital in the back of pickup trucks.

GREEN: Yes, I actually photographed on that on the way out of town in my car with the windows down and, you know, I shot it and then really just kind of prayed that those people are OK, you know. I don't know.

LEMON: And after driving down the interstate and you're witnessing this, you can see just how powerful those winds are or were because you see this 18-wheeler, and there were a number of them on their side turned over.

GREEN: Right. It's amazing.

LEMON: Yes. So you were six miles away. Were you in the middle of this, or did you kind of just come up and there's another angle of that picture. And this is Freeman Hospital. This is another hospital.

I imagine, Jamie, they are trying to get people to.

GREEN: Right, yes. And that wasn't very far from St. John's, probably. I mean, I don't know Joplin very well, but it seemed like just a couple of miles from the St. John's Hospital.

(CROSSTALK)

We were actually -- did you ask if we were in the middle of the storm?

LEMON: Were you in the middle of it, or did you come up just after it?

GREEN: You know, no, I said we were in the middle of it. I mean, we must have been sort of on the place that -- the place that we sought refuge was like -- it was a medical office building about a quarter of a mile away from the St. John's Hospital and, I mean, we -- we saw power lines snapping and I saw a huge dumpster fly through the air. I don't know if we were in the middle of it. If we weren't in the middle of it, we were pretty darn close and we were outside hovering over, you know, a 6-year-old child who did really well, you know.

LEMON: Yes. And stand by, Jamie, because it -- don't go anywhere, because I want you to walk us through. She has a number of pictures. And each one just as amazing as the next and you hear some of the voices screaming and that's because we had people on the phone, and they are standing out in the middle of this chaos and they are trying, I would imagine, to be directed to move people back. So that's what you're hearing in the background.

Kathy Dennis with the American Red Cross on the ground in Joplin, Missouri now.

I would imagine you have seen a lot of disasters and talk to me about this one. How does this one rank when you look at the damage here.

KATHY DENNIS, AMERICAN RED CROSS (via telephone): I don't think I've quite seen anything like this before in my life. This is pretty devastating. I would say probably 75 percent of this town is virtually gone.

LEMON: And what about when you talk about town, you're talking about buildings and property.

What about people? What have you witnessed, Kathy?

DENNIS: We are on Main Street heading down to the Red Cross office right now. Actually, it's been taken us probably at least two hours to get there. People are just walking everywhere. They just don't know where to go and we do have a shelter set up, and this street here is just -- I mean, there is just nothing left on this street. It's one of the main streets here in town.

LEMON: As we looked at this video from ChaserTV.com and we talked to Kathy Dennis from the American Red Cross. What do people watching this need to know about the folks in Joplin? They are going to need a lot of help, right? DENNIS: We are going to need a lot of help. We are behind an ambulance right now and fire trucks actually in Springfield which is about an hour away. And I can see people coming from everywhere that are just here to help. I've seen helicopters, and as far as what we're going to do, here setting up a shelter at MMSU and we're just going to try to help everybody as much as we can.

LEMON: All right, Kathy Dennis with the American Red Cross, stand by.

We still have Bethany Scutti on, our iReporter. Yes?

SCUTTI: Yes, I'm here.

LEMON: Bethany -- OK, Bethany, listen, I want to talk to you about the four fatalities, that's according to the RNs and then our Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist, have some questions for you.

But Bethany Scutti is an iReporter. She lives 10 miles away from Joplin. She rushed down for us to the hospital. Luckily, she and her family are OK. Her kids and her husband got to safety, but she went to the hospital and she described the scene to us and she said it's just devastating and spoke to an RN friend who said that they have lost four patients because the hospital was hit, and they are having to set up a triage unit.

Go ahead, Bethany.

SCUTTI: Yes, an RN said that they had lost four patients, two in ICU and two in another part of the hospital. I also spoke to someone that was working in respiratory at was in the hospital at that time. She said that it happened so fast that they had to just get their bearings before they could move. And then they try to get patients out in the hall. She was in a stairwell, and she said it was just so loud that it was just a roar. And then they got everybody out as fast as they did.

LEMON: Jacqui Jeras, do you have some questions for Bethany?

JERAS: Yes. Can you tell us how much of the hospital saw that damage? It looks like a lot of damage on top. I mean, there are rooms exposed? I heard of chunks of the building which have been removed from the tornado. What is the building like? Is it still stable?

SCUTTI: I would say it is not stable. And it is hard to see the lower floors. The floors here higher are just absolutely devastated. The windows were blown out. There's three hanging outside of the windows. Part of the roof or the whole top of this is missing. I mean, I'm standing behind the hospital, and cinder block walls, brick walls are just crumbled.

JERAS: Describe what your drive was like. You are ten miles north of the city. What was your drive like and what did you encounter as you entered the devastated areas?

SCUTTI: As I was driving in, it was raining for me, but there was no protection on the north of town. I drove south to get towards the hospital, and as I got closer into maybe Seventh Street and downtown Joplin, Seventh Street and Main, I started seeing some debris on the road. The streets started to get very congested. They were blocking the roads to let the emergency vehicles through. And when I realized I couldn't get through there, I turned to go down a Side Street, I tried to go down 20th street which had a lot of devastation.

I started seeing trees all over. Huge trees laying across the road. Laying across houses. Parts of the street torn up. There were power lines down. And there were people just wandering up and down the street. Some of them -- I saw a mother and two children walking down the street.

I can imagine that maybe they lost their home and they were just walking around. But then I also saw people walking around that were trying to help. They were walking around seeing if there was anybody they could help. People driving down the streets and trucks on the side of the road asking if anybody could use help, and as I got closer and closer, it was just so much instruction.

At one point I looked out, there was a house completely engulfed in flames. I could see the smoke from distance, and I'm trying to see where it was coming from and then I could see that it was a house just completely engulfed in flames all around it. Just complete devastation.

JERAS: Amazing.

LEMON: Hey, Jacqui and Bethany, stand by, please.

SCUTTI: OK.

LEMON: It's just -- it's devastating to hear what Bethany is reporting from the ground. And I have to say this, because this is an emergency situation, and I said that through social media that I had seen someone tweeting about help there.

Another one is coming through for nurses or doctors looking to help in Joplin, Missouri. There's a phone number to call, and they are asking you to call The Greater Ozarks of the Red Cross. The Greater Ozarks of the Red Cross. And then they are asking for any medical personnel who is in the area to come to the area to help out. Of course, they want you to be safe.

So, listen, that's the information. I want to -- Chad Myers, after this break.

I'm also hearing from people saying I want some analysis from Chad and Jacqui about what's going on, and what's causing all of these crazy weather systems. These devastating storms that just come through and do so much damage.

We'll be back here in a moment with breaking news here on CNN. The pictures are incredible. The stories are even more incredible of survival and of just living through this tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is, in north end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right, the breaking news here on CNN.

You can see it. It is that tornado that slammed into Joplin, Missouri taking lives with it. We don't know how many, but we hear there are just dozens. There are dozens of reports -- reports of dozens of fatalities. Homes that are completely gone. Businesses leveled and one of the most devastating instances, a hospital. The St. John's Hospital in Joplin. It is crippled. They are having to evacuate the hospital and set up a mobile triage unit.

Jamie Green with "The Wichita Eagle" took these pictures of the hospital as she was caught in the middle of this storm. And then our iReporter Bethany Scutti is now at the hospital and is reporting on what's going on there. She said it is devastating. They have never seen anything like it.

We had a representative from the American Red Cross join us just a short time ago saying that they were going to need all the help that they can get, and, of course, there are calls. They are asking any medical professionals in the area if you can make your way safely to the Joplin, Missouri area to come and help the people out there.

They are also asking for the calls for Red Cross volunteers to come out and help as well. Chad Myers, before we went to the break, people are asking for analysis, and they want to hear from the authorities here. They want to hear from you. What is going on that is causing all of this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS: Well, Don, the last time we had an outbreak like this, even the one accordingly in Alabama the last couple of weeks was 1974. It has been a very long time since we've seen big cities get hit by such big tornadoes.

Those big tornadoes are out there every year. They are F-4s. There are EF-5s every year out there. Most of the time they just get range land, farm land in the middle of Oklahoma. Places that don't have a lot of towns. We don't report on them. Those tornadoes are there.

People are still injured, but it's one and two. When you get tornadoes like we've seen, the size that we've seen. Rolling through metropolis, rolling through cities where there is video, it becomes a big story.

This year we've had a colder than normal air outbreak arrived to the south bumping into warm air. The warm air is always to the south. Now warm air doesn't necessarily cause more tornadoes. They aren't that many tornadoes in the tropic.

They aren't that many tornadoes down where you might think look at all the humidity and look at the heat. Look at down in Barbados. Well, it just doesn't happen. There are small little things down there, but when it's when the cold air that comes down from the north and clashes with the warm air that thinks it's already springtime. I'm spring. We should be warm. Cold air comes down with a cold front with an upper level system that comes out of northwest.

And it pushes this warm air up, and when warm air rises, it gets bubbly. It's the same bubbling that you feel in an aircraft when you're flying across the country. You have rising motion, rising current. And when you get a cold from, the pushed that rising hair and higher and higher in the sky, you can get violent tornadoes and that has happened this year.

We're not really at a record pace for tornadoes. It has really picked up when this cold air that has tried to push farther to the south a little later in the season than usual, even some planting across the Midwest has been delayed because the weather is simply just isn't warm enough.

It has been up there in the cool spring in some spots that cold air clashes with the warm air that's not already across the south. The south is warm all spring long and when that happens, we get the conditions like what we had in Alabama a couple weeks ago.

And you get conditions today that extend all the way from Texas and earlier today you were on the air with it. We had tornadoes in Hennepin County, which is basically Minneapolis, Minnesota and that is, what, that would be 1,000 or 1,500 miles away from where this tornado was tonight.

LEMONS: Chad Myers, stand by. Jacqui Jeras, stand by. Our I- Reporters and the photographers who were there on the scene, shot these pictures and we're so grateful that you send them here to CNN and that you're joining us. Here's what I had to say.

The governor of Missouri Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard in response to the tornadoes and severe weather that moved through the state earlier this evening. Also there is a statement from Senator Roy Blunt. Let me read it in part here, just coming across the wire.

Roy blunt says our thoughts and prayers go out to the families impacted by this devastating tornado in Joplin while local officials are still assessing the extent of the full damages. I'm deeply saddened by the tragic reports of loss and life and the extensive destruction resulting from this storm.

My staff and I will continue to monitor the situation closely and I urge everyone to proceed safely and use extra precaution in the region. The first of the statements that come out. You can expect much, much more, especially from the federal government and you can probably I would very assuredly say a disaster area and probably a disaster area will be declared as well here.

We're going to have more on the other side of the break, as many as 24. Probably more people have died in this devastated tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news. I want to tell viewers that a tornado has ripped through Joplin, Missouri and has taken out a big chunk of the town if not most of it. The pictures are incredible. We're getting reports of 24 people for now who have been killed and there could be many more.

I want to take a look at pictures now from Jamie Green. She is with the Wichita Eagle and she shot these pictures of the hospital and that's a hospital right there. One of the pictures that she shot was of a truck, an 18-wheeler on its side.

And the reason I say that is because Michael Ratliff who is a storm chaser is on the line with us and he helped us to rescue a truck driver so he saw this scene play out where he had to help rescue someone. Tell us what happened and how is the person who you helped rescue.

MICHAEL RATLIFF, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Well, it happened, you know, the tornado was wrapped when it went through town across I-44 interstate, which is a very busy interstate for truckers. When we come upon the scene just seconds after the tornado crossed the highway, there was multiple semis, at least seven to 10 that were turned over on their side.

I ran up to the track. It was on its side. The window was halfway busted out. We busted out the window, there is a driver inside. He was bleeding from his head and had a severe laceration on his elbow at least down to the bone.

Once we got him and his pets we were trying to find the nearest hospital, and as you all know the main hospital for Joplin, which is several stories tall was missing part of the stories. So it was just mass chaos in town and trying to navigate through traffic and the debris and finally got to the hospital.

It was actually one of the last people that they were accepting. The hospital is full. I mean, they are just overwhelmed. They set up several triage centers throughout the town. It's devastation. It's Alabama all over again.

LEMON: And Michael, standby because I want to hear more of your story. You said the top of hospital gone, a big chunk of it. We heard reports of x-rays showing up miles away and according to one of our I-Reporters an RN told her that four people had died in the hospital.

We have a storm chaser on the line. We have people who have taken pictures who are caught in the middle of it. We have an I-Reporter who's actually at the hospital and, of course, we have our wonderful experts here Jacqui Jeras and Chad Myers. And the governor now of Missouri has sent out the National Guard. They have been deployed. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news on CNN. Joplin, Missouri devastated by a very powerful tornado that went through. We don't know how big it was. Let's show a new picture that we have from someone who is actually in the middle of this tornado.

Her name is Ashley Sunbof. She was in the Wal-Mart when it happened, and she took this picture. There you go. If that doesn't describe how powerful this system is and what people are going through in this area I don't know what does. Let's leave this picture up.

We'll tell you that Ashley is OK. We're glad. We don't know how many people were in that Wal-Mart and other businesses, how many people were hurt and how many people have actually been killed from this.

And to get more information now is the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon joins us by phone. A state of emergency, you have deployed the National Guard. Please tell the country what the people of Joplin are dealing with.

GOVERNOR JAY NIXON, MISSOURI (via telephone): Well, first of all, it's total devastation with the hospital down, the high school down, other areas. Bottom line is we declared a state of emergency. We've ordered the activation. We have guardsmen boots on the ground there now.

We've also brought in a search for survivors and with the number of buildings that are down, we brought in Task Force One. This was a group out of Columbia, Missouri that helped in 9/11 to search for survivors that have worked throughout the world.

We want to make sure that if there are folks that are injured, but covered that as the night gets dark that we're out there making sure we can have as many survivors as possible.

LEMON: OK, so you don't know the number, and as I'm talking to you here, Governor, I'm going through, I just have a friend who is from that area. His name is Steve Ellis and he just e-mailed me and said my relatives are in Joplin. We cannot reach them. Please call me. Friend, we need your help.

And a lot of people are dealing with a very similar situation, Governor. We're hearing reports of 24 deaths in Joplin. Do you have any official count? I know it's going to fluctuate, but what are you hearing?

NIXON: We don't have an official count, but there will be -- we have had confirmation of a number of deaths and the numbers appear to be rising. Also dealing with that communications, I dispatched a few hours ago our highway patrol mobile communications vehicle to Joplin.

So we've got solid communication among first responders down there. The cell phones may not work and other areas may not work, but we're working hard to make sure with the highway patrol and with the local law enforcement and with the National Guard. We have communication for the emergency responders down there.

We have a shelter set up in Missouri southern with the help of our faith-based partners, Red Cross and others. The bottom line is that we are responding aggressively quickly. We wanted to just make sure as the night goes on that we're saving lives between now and dawn.

LEMON: Governor, by a number of people who have come on our air, they're describing people there as the walking wounded and just saying they are walking around devastated and who could believe that this would happen to them.

NIXON: A Sunday evening, you know, it's a devastating storm especially hitting the hospital and on the other hospital there had been very, very helpful, but bring in medical resources from Springfield and other parts of the state.

The important thing is that if people are injured, there are places for them. We've got folks there. They can get to that shelter, which can provide and help us provide that. Bottom line is that we're actively involved in search and rescue now.

We want to make sure we save as many lives as possible tonight. If people are injured --

LEMON: Governor, we're having a little bit of trouble hearing you, but what I want to ask you real quickly here. I have seen reports of calls going out asking for medical professionals who are in the area and also Red Cross volunteers. Is that so?

NIXON: Yes. But we have a number of medical folks coming in from Springfield and other areas coming right in to back it up. The triage system is working. There are a number of injuries. It's going to be a long night and a difficult recovery.

LEMON: And you've heard it for yourself for Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri. He has deployed the National Guard and it is a state of emergency in Missouri tonight.

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LEMON: All right. Joplin, Missouri will never be the same again. It is different. The map will change there because of this tornado that ripped through earlier this evening and caught a lot of people off guard.

One person caught up in the middle of it was Jamie Green. She shot some photos for us. She's with the Wichita Eagle, but also her video is on kansas.com. She's on the phone. Roll the video and then we'll talk to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kind of scared. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Jamie Green, it's dark. You see the skies lighting up. Was this before or after? Was it dark when it happened and then it got lighter? Did you take this after the initial pictures?

GREEN: I took this way before I shot any of the devastation. This is when I believe when the tornado was about to happen and then -- my friend was like behind me in another car. She's from Kansas and she says that you should never stay in the car during a tornado.

So we didn't have really many options so we got out of the car shortly after I shot that. We huddled down. My friend and I and her 6-year- old daughter, we huddled down over her daughter and out in the elements, but up against a wall, up against an office building.

Our only other option would have been to throw a bench through the glass window, which we actually thought of, but we didn't -- we decided not to. So that was, again, that video was taken I think maybe a minute or two from before the tornado.

LEMON: Unbelievable. Let's get those pictures back up now that Jamie Green took because they're just unbelievable. The one that strikes me, the hospital one, but there's another one with people -- this one is going to personify at least in part the storm when you look at this hospital.

I mean, obviously you can see that the windows are blown out. This is the one that gets me, the people in the back of the pickup truck. Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras, this has to tug at your heart and you see just how desperate people are. Help me talk to Jamie Green on the phone about this now.

JERAS: Yes. It real does tug at your heart, Don. You knew there's been a lot of video online as well and we've talked with radio reporters as well as TV reporters who have been really overcome in this situation.

In fact, I saw one person break down and cry on national television. That's just how devastating the situation is. You know, this a large part of a very populated area, Joplin, Missouri, as much as 175,000 people live in the city and the surrounding suburb areas and this is definitely a life-changing event for the people that live there.

A lot of life has been lost. You know, those numbers are questionable as to how many. We've heard as many as 24 and, unfortunately, those are going to continue to go up. You know, people are trapped in their homes. The hospital has been impacted and people won't -- are having to go to a different hospital and triages are being set up so this large scale search and rescue is taking place.

We heard from the governor, you know, talking about bringing in the special task force to help find these people and they are trying to get in additional medical help as well. So it's hard to put into words, it really is. LEMON: Yes. It's devastating. Jacqui stand by. Just want to tell you just how this just breaks your heart. I have a friend whose grandmother is there. He's been e-mailing me. He said my aunt is 82- year-old, Don. She's very near St. John's hospital. No one to reach anyone. No one has been able to reach anyone.

Her name is Betty Schrader at 2904 Ohio. If you have an on-the-ground contact, please check on her. I'm very distressed. So Stephen was able to send that to me just because he knows me, but I imagine a lot of that is going on among people who live there.

JERAS: Don --

LEMON: People checking on their neighbors - yes, go ahead, Jacqui. I've watching Twitter and Red Cross is tweeting on their web site right now that people can help find others and let them know that they are OK via the web so that's one resource and there are also lists of shelters where people will be able to get some help as well there.

LEMON: Thanks, Jacqui. Don't go anywhere. More after the break, everyone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news out of Missouri. A tornado has gone through and really ripped up the place, and St. John's Hospital at the center of this.

Joining us now is Bethany Scutti, our I-Reporter. Bethany, sum it up for us real quickly here, what you're seeing.

SCUTTI (via telephone): Well, at St. John's Hospital, they are now breaking down the triage center and getting all of the patients to other facilities. They are loading up whatever supplies they can to help out to the patients in need.

LEMON: And you're seeing bandages and all of that?

SCUTTI: Yes, stretchers full of bandages, crutches and wheelchairs. Bins of water and juice trying to get them to the patients that they need.

LEMON: Yes, and Jamie Green who shot these pictures in the video. Can you believe you survived it?

SCUTTI: No, it's pretty hard to believe. I'm feeling pretty lucky right now and feeling pretty bad for everyone else. I know it's going to be such a tragedy.

LEMON: Yes, Jacqui, you got 10 seconds for me to talk about this.

JERAS: I wanted to ask Bethany real quick if she can give us an idea of what percentage of the town has been affected. I've heard as much as 75 percent. One woman we had on the air I think from the Red Cross. Can you tell us how much?

SCUTTI: Wow, I wish I knew. I have not heard that. I know the south side of Joplin is looking really bad.

JERAS: OK, I also I heard about gas leak at the hospital --

LEMON: Jacqui, we've got to run. We've only had a few seconds on the air. I wish we had more. So I listen. Thank you very much for joining us tonight and make sure you tune in to "AMERICAN MORNING" here on CNN starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

And again, there's breaking news and other breaking news as well. There's been an arrest, you know, in the Dodgers incident where the man who was put into a coma. They have arrested a suspect so, again, make sure you stay tuned to "AMERICAN MORNING" CNN at 6:00 a.m.

I'm Don Lemon. Thank you for watching. Good night.

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