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A Twister's Fury: In the Path of Destruction
Aired May 28, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's huge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, gosh. That is a monster tornado.
GRIFFIN: Battle hardened storm chasers in awe of nature's power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. This is awful. Dude, the trees - the trees are debarked.
GRIFFIN: Residents running for cover anywhere they could.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody get down, all on the ground.
GRIFFIN: In a crowded convenience store, some 20 people hunkering down in a darkened commercial refrigerator.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we go in the cooler?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, dear heaven. God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God!
GRIFFIN: At the same time, a security camera in a nearby frozen yogurt shop catches the chaos. Workers moving customers to the back and then - everything goes flying.
The massive tornado mowing down everything in its path. People's lives churned up and spewed out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the gas station that we were at.
GRIFFIN: This is the convenience store now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would have been where we walked in.
GRIFFIN: All across the city, thousands and thousands of people in shock, taking the first steps on the long road to recovery. Make no mistake, Joplin, Missouri, will rebuild, but it will never be the same.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to this one-hour CNN Special Report on the Joplin, Missouri, tornado and other deadly storms. A TWISTER'S FURY: IN THE PATH OF DESTRUCTION." I'm Drew Griffin.
Just hours from now, President Obama will be on the ground in Joplin. It will be his first look at what's left of this devastated city. One hundred forty-two people have lost their lives. Another hundred are missing, yet amid the widespread destruction CNN's Casey Wian found people already starting to rebuild.
DARREN COLLINS, CONTRACTOR: This is America and we're going to rebuild it.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four days after a historic tornado demolished much of Joplin, Missouri -
COLLINS: Why don't you cut them and put them underneath?
WIAN: Contractor Darren Collins started construction on the first new building to emerge from the rubble.
COLLINS: At some point, we're going to have to stop scratching our heads and standing staring at the rubble and roll up our sleeves and get things back to some sort of normalcy.
WIAN: He's rebuilding his wife's beauty salon, which he built once before 17 years ago. On Tuesday, Collins discussed the idea with shocked city officials. Wednesday, they gave him the OK to start and Thursday construction began.
COLLINS: We've had just an enormous outpouring of generosity and help to get prepared to get back to this point. The city's been great. The City of Joplin has allowed us a permit in record time.
WIAN: There is still no electricity in Joplin. The substation across the street remains in ruins, so a generator powers the tools.
COLLINS: Time to roll up our sleeves and do what we can do to move on with our lives.
WIAN: Passers-by continually stopped to offer encouragement and support.
COLLINS: I just had two police officers stop by and said, "Man, we want to shake your hand," the first glimmer of hope that we've really seen towards the town rebuilding.
WIAN: Four nearby homes that Collins built in the past year are in ruins. Already, he has at least six projects waiting to be rebuilt.
COLLINS: My heart first goes out to everyone that did lose loved ones. And I hate for it to come to something like this to - to bring business to the area, but I believe everyone around here will surprise everyone in the country with - with the rate that we can come back.
WIAN: After so much tragedy and so much devastation, Collins takes solace in the cross that remains standing in the rubble of St. Mary's Church across the street and in the support he's received from his community.
COLLINS: I thank God to live in such a place.
GRIFFIN: And Casey Wian joins us live from Joplin. The Collins story is certainly inspirational. Those around him also I found inspirational is the amount of volunteers who are flooding to that city, literally - Casey.
WIAN: That's right, Drew. You know, it's incredible. We've seen people from all over the country flocking to Joplin to help out. Church groups, other volunteers, people who are doing search and rescue efforts on their own.
The city says there are officially 2,500 volunteers registered, but they believe there's at least 3,000, perhaps even more than that, including the folks who have just come here on their own to decide to help out. It's really showing that this city is committed to rebuilding and it's something that needs to happen - this cleanup process that these volunteers are helping with - before this rebuilding can begin in earnest, Drew.
GRIFFIN: Tomorrow, the president arrives in town. Presidents always wonder if they're going to be a help or a hindrance once they arrive because they take so much of the local law enforcement away from what needs to be done. What's the - what's the impression there of the president's visit?
WIAN: Well, the local fire chief today said that this is still a rescue and recovery operation. So it is going to slow some things down because they are going to need 130 law enforcement officers just to line and provide security for the president's motorcade from the airport to the place where these services are going to happen tomorrow afternoon, but they say they're willing to put up with that delay, with that inconvenience because it will help bring attention to what's happened here, and they need help from the federal government - Drew.
GRIFFIN: Casey Wian live in Joplin, Missouri tonight. Thanks, Casey.
Imagine living through this tornado clinging to the plumbing inside a restroom, the only thing saving your life the strength of the toilet bolts, the pipes on the sink and your arms.
Rance Junge had a pharmacy just across the street from the St. Johns Regional Medical Center. He joins us live from Joplin. Rance, tell us what happened.
RANCE JUNGE, PHARMACIST: Well, it didn't look that threatening at the time. We (INAUDIBLE) in the side of the building and we knew the sirens had been on and they went on. But the electricity started to flicker, the computers went down. So I decided to open up the back door just to make sure that it was OK back there. And when I opened up I just saw a massive wall. The magnitude was unbelievable. It was your whole peripheral vision of field - or field of vision.
GRIFFIN: So what did you do?
JUNGE: Well, I saw that and I knew we were in serious trouble, obviously. But I didn't want to panic the girl that I was working with, Desi (ph), and I said, we've got to go. We don't have much time. We got to go, go, go. And so we headed for the front door and then Desi (ph) saw that Sammy (ph), who was working at a convenience store, was shutting down a register too over there and started talking to her about what she's going to do. And I told them, I said, "We don't have much time. We've got to go. We got to go."
And with that, it jerk - I was at the front door. It took the door out of my hand and jerked it off. And I said, "We don't have time. We've got to get to the bathroom." And so we just headed into the bathroom at that point in the center part of the store. We just sat down. She slid to the left side of the toilet, I got to the right. We hung on to the side of the toilet and I was holding the pipes under the sink. And the whole building was coming apart.
GRIFFIN: How long did that frightening moment last when - when you're just basically clinging the commode?
JUNGE: It was longer than you would imagine. Of course, those - those seconds are always long on something of that magnitude. But we survived the first wall. It - I was just hoping that it wouldn't breach the bathroom wall structure and that held for a little while, but the first wall took that out. We could see daylight.
But then it calmed down for a second and we could open our eyes a little bit. And I looked around and then I thought I couldn't believe we've survived that because the wind and the pressure was tremendous.
GRIFFIN: Well, look -
JUNGE: And I thought, we must be in the eye of this thing. And sure enough, it started picking up again and the backside of it was much worse. That's when I got hit in the back and that's when there was actually another person in the other bathroom that I didn't realize. He was injured.
GRIFFIN: When you - when the danger had passed, you realized you were going to make it, there must have been a moment when you stood up, looked outside and realized from the time you got in that bathroom to the time you got out, the world of Joplin had changed.
JUNGE: Well, actually, you know, I just was trying to get everybody - I was trying to get myself out with Desi (ph) and we got out. You know, you don't think the rest of the world would disappear around you. At least I didn't. And I just wanted to get everybody. We were alive. That's what I kept telling everybody, we're alive. We're OK.
And so we headed to the - to the hospital. But when we walked outside it was a new world. Everything was gone. Everything was gone. And it was amazing. As big a structure as St. Johns is, when we got to the inside of it, it was a complete disaster. I thought it would take out part of it, you know, in the front part, but it had sucked the whole inside on the ground floor out. GRIFFIN: Rance, as I look behind you there, I'm just wondering, do you see signs of hope? Do you see signs that your community is going to come back from this?
JUNGE: It will come back. It will take time. I think the people are strong here. They'll tell - I think we'll make it. We'll make it. But we do need a lot of help. A lot of these people are not high income people and so they're going to need some assistance to get this going.
GRIFFIN: Rance Junge who survived this tornado clinging to a toilet. Thank you so much, sir, for your observations -
GRIFFIN: -- and for the video.
GRIFFIN: Thanks a lot.
Now this -
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming! The power lines right here.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Coming up next, a look back at this week's devastating tornadoes and a couple's lives are spared by taking refuge in a safe room. You'll hear their harrowing story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISAAC DUNCAN, SURVIVOR (voice-over): And so we just all jumped in the cooler. And it's pretty small, so everyone was pretty tight, you know? Everyone was getting kind of crushed. There's - it was - they store beers so there's broken glass everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: It has been just about a week now since those devastating storms that would change so many lives. They began their march through the nation's mid section. And day after day, the warnings were posted, (INAUDIBLE) erupted. And by the time it was all over, cities large and small would never be the same. We want to give you a day-by-day look at the most dramatic images of this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming. The power lines right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, let's get up there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Paul (ph), we're getting -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can hear it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's getting big, big, big.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's huge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it all on video. I got it all on video.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like a waterfall. Wet (ph) tornado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is on the outskirts, the western edge of Waverly now. It is in a more populated area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. There it is. There it is. Oh, gosh, that is a monster tornado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's crossing the road right where we -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Back up. Oh, no. Stop. Oh, no. What did it destroy? We're running back. Oh, it's a trailer house. Slow down, buddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very large tornado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just had a power flash. Hopefully they will get -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- out of there and safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is tremendous. David Payne, are you still with us? (INAUDIBLE), the tornado -
DAVID PAYNE, 4WARN METEOROLOGIST, KFOR-TV (voice-over): Yes. (INAUDIBLE). It's another killer tornado. It went (INAUDIBLE) across Highway 81 is where it intensified and it almost got us. It intensified right on top of us. Amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a violent tornado. You see how it's carving out kind of a V-shaped debris cloud and we'll just let this roll. This was live for good 20 - 25 minutes. That's the Goldsby Water Tower. I will show that to you a short while ago. But watch this as it comes into Goldsby. And folks were watching and they were in their safe spot. And a lot of folks left town. A lot of folks got out of town. They were in their safe spot because homes are obliterated down in Goldsby.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's there. Right there. You got it. We got a funnel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tornado on the ground, Tuckerman, Arkansas.
GRIFFIN: Just amazing pictures from this past week. The death toll, you know, could have been much higher in these storms if it weren't for the so-called safe rooms in some homes. A safe room is a fortified structure, steel, concrete made supposedly to withstand a tornado. The Bieligk family in Joplin says their safe room saved them from certain death. Karen and Samuel Bieligk gave our T.J. Holmes a firsthand look.
T. J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You guys are accustomed to severe weather in the Midwest and this part of the country. When did this start to feel any different?
DR. SAMUEL BIELIGK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: This storm, even though initially to me started like pretty much every other storm that we know. We hear the warnings on the television and we keep an eye out the window.
HOLMES: When did your own personal alarm bells start going off?
KAREN BIELIGK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: You know what, they were downstairs, they were eating and they were watching a movie and I was upstairs, watching TV, like I said. And I looked outside and it wasn't - I mean, it was dark. It looked scary, but it wasn't that much different, but just something said go down stairs. As soon as I said it, the power went off.
S. BIELIGK: And we got in the room. She closed the door and then my ears started popping.
K. BIELIGK: Oh, terrible.
S. BIELIGK: As if we were going up in an airplane. And I had never experienced that before.
HOLMES: How many times have you all used this in the past?
K. BIELIGK: Never. Been here three years.
HOLMES: And you have never used your safe room?
K. BIELIGK: Never. Two and a half weeks ago, I cleaned it out.
HOLMES: You were essentially using it as a closet.
K. BIELIGK: We were. This was a closet.
HOLMES: Did you feel safe when you got in here and closed the door?
K. BIELIGK: Well, I was against the door and it was shaking so hard and I just was holding on - I mean, I was just laying against it. You could feel the pressure.
S. BIELIGK: Yes. See, this is wood on the top so there was a lot of banging going on and -
K. BIELIGK: Just sounded like everything was exploding.
HOLMES: Where in your house could you have survived if you didn't have this room?
S. BIELIGK: Not anywhere else in the house besides down here.
K. BIELIGK: If our daughter Isabella (ph) had been in her room, she surely would have died, because her whole window exploded in. Just glass everywhere.
S. BIELIGK: Upstairs there is a board from the fence that actually goes right through the wall like it was going at 200 miles an hour.
K. BIELIGK: Just wouldn't have been OK.
S. BIELIGK: Everything on the top floor was pretty - pretty much shot.
K. BIELIGK: Everything had just exploded. Everything was everywhere. I mean, it was like a war zone. And I turned around and went and told my kids, nothing looks the same, but we are all alive.
HOLMES: Today, what do you think about the attitude you used to have about this room?
K. BIELIGK: I would not ever live in this area without a room like this again. I mean, it saved our lives.
S. BIELIGK: And from now on we'll always keep it cleared out so we can get in here.
K. BIELIGK: It's a blessing.
GRIFFIN: Now, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sirens sounded and the warnings went up. We ferried everyone into the basement of the gymnasium, which is where the shelter is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Coming up next, high praise for Red Cross volunteers who helped many victims while suffering personal loss of their own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK ROHR, JOPLIN, MISSOURI CITY MANAGER: We have indication that there have been 142 human remains found within the City of Joplin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: That announcement from today and as the death toll rises in shattered Joplin, Missouri, those who survived last Sunday's violent tornado are trying to make sense of the catastrophe that upended their lives, destroyed almost everything around them.
CNN's Casey Wian tell us some are finding faith and hope at a Red Cross shelter.
WIAN (voice-over): Blown away - a town, a community torn apart. He lost his hospital, his home and nearly his father.
DR. NAVID ZAIDI, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I was just calling him out. I was yelling his name. And it's - dad, dad, are you there?
WIAN: He nearly lost his life.
JOHN NESS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I thought I was going to die, truthfully.
WIAN: Like so many trying to pick up the pieces of their lives in Joplin, Missouri, Dr. Navid Zaidi and John Ness have been ravaged by this disaster. But they have both found faith and purpose at this makeshift Red Cross Center on a campus of Missouri Southern University.
NESS: We have been sleeping in the dormitory in there.
WIAN: Ness is lucky to be sleeping anywhere today. When the tornado devastated this town he was literally sucked through the wall of his home.
NESS: The wall of the house, I went through it and out to the backyard. The trees were falling, fell, smashed everything in the whole of the backyard.
WIAN: Ness has lost much. Everyone here has. All scarred perhaps permanently by this killer storm.
NESS: Every time I hear a bang or a boom or something I'll jump up. (INAUDIBLE). I never was like that. I was scared. It scares me.
WIAN: Ness counts his blessings.
NESS: If it wasn't for the Lord, I wouldn't be here. Like I said, Sunday morning I got saved. Sunday night I got blown away.
WIAN: Ness also has high praise for the Red Cross and its tireless volunteers like Dr. Zaidi.
ZAIDI: Walk a little bit and keep your legs moving.
WIAN: He's tending to those in need.
ZAIDI: I'll check up on you later.
WIAN: Even as he struggles with staggering losses in his own life.
ZAIDI: We lost our home. The hospital is destroyed and I - my office is destroyed.
WIAN: Dr. Zaidi was at St. Johns Hospital when the tornado cut through it.
ZAIDI: I had no idea about my family. I lost - we lost contact.
WIAN: Frantic, uncertain hours followed, but then word finally came through, first from his daughter then Dr. Zaidi's wife they're OK. But someone was still missing - his father.
ZAIDI: We went to my parents' house and he was there. He was stuck there in the rubble. You know, he was stuck in his room and he just couldn't get out.
WIAN: As in so many scenes that have played out all over Joplin, Dr. Zaidi was forced to dig to save a loved one.
ZAIDI: We found a path and we cleared up stuff and we just kind of pulled him out from there at 2:00 in the morning.
WIAN: Throughout this temporary Red Cross shelter, there are similar stories of dramatic rescues, close calls and agonizing losses.
ZAIDI: We are homeless, jobless and car-less. But, believe me, I think that we are so lucky to survive this. And right now, we just have to start from scratch.
GRIFFIN: And you can help them start from scratch. Here is how. Just log on to CNN.com/IMPACT and check out our special page. It has all the tools you need to make a difference for those people in Joplin.
Well, where do the sick and injured go when their town's main hospital is blown away by a tornado? We're going to take you inside St. Johns Hospital in Joplin, Missouri, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH COX, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I guess I kept thinking what it would have been like for my brothers had they cannot - had they not been able to find me. You know, what it would have been like for them. And I'm glad they found me because I don't want the to do that to them. (END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Caring for the victims of this tornado is made even more difficult after the place Joplin has counted on for care, its largest hospital, became part of the rubble field. St. Johns Hospital found itself at the center of the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at this. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): What happens if disaster strikes -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It went right through here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know where -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show where we are.
GRIFFIN: -- if the worst happens -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.
GRIFFIN: -- and the hospital is at the center of the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no. It's the hospital.
GRIFFIN: St. John's Hospital, Joplin, Missouri. The biggest hospital for miles around.
DR. JAMES RISCOE, E.R. PHYSICIAN, ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL: St. John's is a 230-bed acute care hospital.
GRIFFIN: Jim Riscoe has been an E.R. doctor at St. John's for the last 17 years.
RISCOE: This is a very, very sophisticated hospital in a relatively small town.
ANDREW MCDANIEL, TORNADO SURVIVOR: And I was down the road, playing horseshoes with my friends.
GRIFFIN: On May 22nd, Andrew McDaniel came to the hospital to visit his grandmother. As he arrived, a sound familiar to every mid- westerner.
MCDANIEL: The sirens started going off as I was walking in. I looked and I didn't really see much other than the dark clouds over there. I didn't think anything of it.
GRIFFIN: But in those dark clouds, a monster tornado was headed right for them. At St. John's, it was the moment they trained for that they hoped would never come.
RISCOE: We drill - well, actually, just by virtue of the fact that we're in tornado alley down here, we prepare several times a month.
GRIFFIN: But this was not a drill.
ANGIE ABNER, NURSE, ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL: It's a stormy day and we thought all was going well.
GRIFFIN: Angie Abner was a nurse in the emergency room.
ABNER: Of course, no one ever thinks it's going to happen. Nobody was really taking it serious.
GRIFFIN: But the tornado was churning toward the hospital at 200 miles per hour. There wasn't a second to lose.
ABNER: I was in a triage center and heard loud train sounds and our security alerted me that we had to move quickly.
PAUL JOHNSON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: The nurses had already warned everybody that we do have a tornado. Go.
GRIFFIN: Patient Paul Johnson hit the decks.
JOHNSON: My son was with me, so he just shoved me into the hallway.
GRIFFIN: Moments later, the tornado hit the hospital dead on.
MCDANIEL: The whole building started going side to side like we were on a boat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.
ABNER: Everything just started flying at me.
JOHNSON: All the ceiling tiles came down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, it's getting big, big, big, big.
JOHNSON: Pieces of the windows come sailing around all over.
RISCOE: Then EKG machines and gurneys and wheelchairs and stuff are flying down one hall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, gosh. That is a monster tornado.
JOHNSON: And of course now there was a whole - whole - a whole lot of "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys" going on.
ABNER: And there were three coworkers in front of me and we - I started screaming for them to get down, pushed them under a registrations desk.
GRIFFIN: Before the tornado had passed, Abner started crawling down the hall to find out if everyone was OK.
ABNER: Most of our - our nurses, they were protecting their patients and directly protecting patients, laying over the top of patients, because these ambulance doors immediately gave, blew through the E.R.
GRIFFIN: When it was over, Paul Johnson could see the sky.
JOHNSON: I could look right up through that ceiling right there and see blue sky. I just - I could see some of the hospital had to be gone, because I knew there was another floor above us.
When I saw that, I said, this isn't good. This is not good at all.
GRIFFIN: But Johnson was OK, and so was McDaniel and his family.
MCDANIEL: My grandpa has bruises and cuts on his back. My grandma has glass still embedded in her hair, but, I mean, we're a lot better off than a lot of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is bad. Oh, my gosh. This is awful.
GRIFFIN: A lot of people in Joplin were suddenly and severely wounded, but the biggest hospital in town was in ruins.
RISCOE: Having our emergency room destroyed underneath this pretty much turned the page on disaster plans.
GRIFFIN: Riscoe, at home on his day off, rushed to the hospital. He arrived to find a building he hardly recognized.
RISCOE: The hospital was on fire, blackened, and the top of the roof was gone. The doors to the emergency room were blown open.
GRIFFIN: Now, the newly wounded flooded into the hospital.
ABNER: And they began running through and jumping over tables, through our E.R. doors that had busted open. Many were bleeding profusely.
Immediately, when I started seeing them, all fear is gone for myself. I mean, those patients needed us.
GRIFFIN: As the injured flooded to the hospital for care, McDaniel was desperately trying to get his grandmother out.
MCDANIEL: They took us down to the second floor and there was about an ankle deep of water, and we were trying to push the wheelchairs and everything through it to get people out.
GRIFFIN: They wheeled his grandmother out of the hospital, then flagged down a passing car to drive them home.
ABNER: There was no crying. There was no screaming.
GRIFFIN: The St. John's staff kept working, laser-focused on their patients.
ABNER: We did what we had to do, and we all stayed, even though people were worried about their families. RISCOE: It's been just a very short period of time, we were able to evacuate over 200 patients to a safer parking lot, and then transport them to area hospitals.
JOHNSON: This - this finger here was just lacerated wide open.
GRIFFIN: Patients like Paul Johnson were stabilized in makeshift triage centers.
JOHNSON: They were making do with what they had. So I - I tip my hat to them. They - it was that fast that they - they set up a system that fast that took care of people.
GRIFFIN: Six people died at St. John's that day, but, miraculously, most survived.
RISCOE: This is a new tower. This is the original hospital.
GRIFFIN: Two days later, for Jim Riscoe, it's all sinking in.
RISCOE: My heart's broken because my mom and dad died here and my son was born here. I have so many memories of working with the other doctors and the nurses, and this is home. I mean, St. John's is more than a building. It's - it's a spirit.
GRIFFIN: We are asking what so many people in the Midwest are asking - why? Why are there so many powerful and deadly tornadoes this is year? And how can you tell the strength of a tornado by looking at the damage?
We'll have the science behind these killer tornadoes, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. There it is. There it is. Oh, gosh. That is a monster tornado.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: As we've seen throughout this hour, the signature of this storm has been its size and its power. We have been asking the question of how it developed. We're going to pose that to meteorologist Chad Myers.
Chad, how did it happen so strong? Because people knew it was coming, they did what they were supposed to do, and yet they really could not get out of the way.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, a couple of things happened. The storm developed rapidly, even though the warning was out, with 24 minutes' worth of notice, the storm developed in that five miles, from just west of Joplin, right over here. The storm was just on the ground as an F-0, small little tornado. But, in five miles, it became 200 miles per hour and more. Just five miles.
Had this storm, had this spot right here, been maybe 15 miles farther to the west, and so the spotters were out on it, saying look out, this is a huge killer tornado. Get out of the way. Get out of the way. Get out of the way, maybe the immediacy would have been a little bit more.
People would have been out of their cars. They would have been in buildings. A lot of people died in cars. You saw what those cars - what happened to those cars. Those cars were destroyed.
It was a giant tornado. There is - there was - sometimes there's just nothing you can do about it. There's not - and there's not a question. That's Joplin, that little word right there.
This is what we call a hook echo. This is a monster cell. But it wasn't a tornado - it wasn't a tornado on the ground until it got right there. And then, when the tornado got on the ground, it just rolled and ripped through Joplin, Missouri, got bigger and bigger and bigger. And, at some point in time, at 200 miles per hour, even if you're in your safe spot in your house, if you are not under ground, in a storm shelter, you can't survive it. It's that simple.
GRIFFIN: We've seen so many tough storms this season. Is there something about this season or something about the particular storms that we are just unlucky? This one hit Joplin, another other one hit Tuscaloosa.
CHAD: A few things that are different. We - we wouldn't know for years what exactly all happened until somebody's masters thesis figures it all out. But, I mean, let's go through the things that are different this year than a normal year.
This is a normal jet stream, a normal pattern in storms firing (ph) Oklahoma and Texas. How is this different? How is - how is 2011 spring different?
It is colder than normal on the Plains. This was a record snow pack. There were 72 feet of snow in Alpine Meadows, out here in the Sierra, record snow pack in the - in the Rockies, and cold, cold air across the northern plains.
So every time a cold front came down, it was colder than it should have been. That cold air digs under and pushes warm air up, and the dry air here - this has been a historic drought in parts of Texas. Many of the storms should have been in Texas. But if the air is so dry, you can't get a thunderstorm, you wouldn't get any tornadoes.
So what was it waiting for? The storms are waiting for the flooding, the floodwaters that are here. All of the - every time the sun comes out, it bakes those floodwaters, they evaporate and the air here is more humid than it would be in a regular year.
Something else, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than normal. You have colder than normal, warmer than normal. What does that make? A jet stream that's faster than normal. And when you get a jet stream that's moving faster, you get the potential for more shear, more difference between what the air is doing down here and what the air is doing up here. A faster jet can make and does make bigger tornadoes.
This year, 2011, Drew, we've had four F-5s or EF-5 tornadoes, greater than 200 miles per hour. You know, I - we - we saw that. That's how Joplin got to be the 200 plus.
There was one F-5 - EF-5 in 2008. There was one in 2007. And there was one in 1999. And there's four - four already this year. And we're into May and into June, and we're just still not out of the peak tornado season.
GRIFFIN: And I must ask you, because when I see that, I think of the next big storm threat which is a hurricane.
GRIFFIN: Anything that says this historic draught, historic flooding, warm water in the Gulf of Mexico portends danger for hurricane season?
CHAD: Maybe. The snow got up here because of La Nina. There was a colder - a cold episode in the Pacific here. That La Nina is gone. La Nina can bring bigger - bigger hurricanes because of the - the shear that it makes, or the - the lack of it that it can make in the - in the Pacific and the Atlantic and then also in the gulf.
I'm worried about the warmer water. Clearly, we are always worried about the warmer water, but 2004 was a very big tornado season. It didn't kill a lot of people, but we had a huge number of tornadoes.
Remember 2004? I do. Charlie, Gene, Francis, Ivan. It goes on and on and on. I was on the beach almost the entire summer. I just didn't enjoy it because I was watching hurricanes come in one after the other after the other.
GRIFFIN: Chad Myers, thanks.
Two cities devastated by tornadoes - Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not just linked by tragedy, also by charity.
Coming up next, a look at the future for both of these cities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANK HAMIL, FATHER OF TWO SONS KILLED IN TORNADO: I lost both my boys. I was hoping we'd find Ryan today alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Officials announced dozens of additional names of the dead today in Joplin, Missouri, and literally they range in age from one to 92 years old.
Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama are two American cities united in tragedy now. Massive tornadoes devastated wide sections of both of these areas just weeks apart. People in Joplin, of course, are still reeling from the disaster. Tuscaloosa, meantime, has had a month to begin its recovery and that's where our David Mattingly is tonight - David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Drew, Tuscaloosa's tragedy occurred just a month ago when the tornado touched down here and devastated neighborhood after neighborhood. We came here now to find an abundance of hope in this city, but recovery is moving slowly.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): One month since a monster tornado killed 41 people here, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, offers little hope for a quick recovery to the victims of more recent tornadoes in places like Joplin, Missouri.
MATTINGLY (on camera): What's this over here?
GAYLE HARDIN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: OK, that's my grandson's tent.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): On the outskirts of Tuscaloosa, I find Gayle Hardin in a moment of despair.
HARDIN: Today, it just hit me, you know, that I'm not ever going to be able to go back home again.
MATTINGLY: After living in tents for weeks with her family, almost everything Hardin had still sits in a massive pile next to the road. Letting go of the life she knew has been the hardest thing of all.
HARDIN: I don't know how to start over with everything, because everything's just dirt and debris. But I got my family and - and we'll make it.
MATTINGLY: A thought echoed daily across Tuscaloosa as small signs of hope slowly emerge. The streets are finally clear. Water is back on. Electricity returns to more homes by the day.
MATTINGLY (on camera): But one thing hasn't changed. So many neighborhoods like this remain in pieces, abandoned, lifeless ghost towns. In fact, if you look around and look at all this destruction that's still all around us here, it looks like the storm hit yesterday.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): And it feels like it to survivors whose lives were broken, bent and battered.
MATTINGLY (on camera): What was it that went in here?
STEVE BROWN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: That was a two by four that went straight through.
MATTINGLY: It went right through the house?
BROWN: Right through the house. MATTINGLY (voice-over): In one of the hardest hit areas, Steven Brown is the only one I find trying to rebuild. His house, the only one on the street still standing, but shredded inside and out by debris.
BROWN: That was a piece of paneling come through and wedged inside - inside of that right there. Just wedged inside of that wall there.
MATTINGLY (on camera): If someone had been hiding in this closet that -
MATTINGLY: -- wouldn't have been safe either.
BROWN: Yes. It went straight through.
MATTINGLY: Oh, look. It came all the way through.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): His family survived huddled and praying in the hallway floor. Three next door neighbors died.
A Google street view of Brown Street shows a neighborhood that was full of life. This is what it looks like now.
MATTINGLY (on camera): After everything that's happened, what made you decide to come back?
BROWN: This is home.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): And like so many hit by this tornado, Brown is getting help from volunteers offering food, (INAUDIBLE) and comfort. Brown tells me he's learned something and wants to tell the people of Joplin - don't turn down help and don't give up.
BROWN: If you can't go anywhere else, you always can go home, so -
MATTINGLY (on camera): Wouldn't it have been easier for you just to pack it in and just say I'm not going back and start over somewhere?
BROWN: Yes. It would have been a whole lot easier. It definitely would have been a whole lot easier, but I wouldn't let this get me down.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): A full month after a deadly tornado, and so many still so slow to turn the corner from surviving to recovering.
MATTINGLY: The determination here to rebuild is palpable. The people here believe that these neighborhoods will be restored. But they will not be rebuilt, everyone believes, to what they used to be. They believe they now need to be better, stronger and safer - Drew.
GRIFFIN: David, I - I realize it's only been a month, but as I see the devastation behind you, the piles of rubble everywhere, I have to ask. What is the hold-up in getting the equipment that's going to be needed - not the hands but the equipment, the trucks, the backhoes to pick up this junk and clear it out of the way?
MATTINGLY: Oh, they've been doing that. In fact, they've collected enough debris from this neighborhoods. I mean, you should have seen it before. The streets were absolutely impassable.
They've picked up enough debris, the city says, to fill up Alabama's football stadium all the way to the top, and that's only a fraction of the job. They are going after it 24 hours a day. And it was just so widespread and so much destruction that they are just now starting, they feel like, to turn a corner and get some real big things done here.
GRIFFIN: A lot of people have been turning to the federal government, FEMA, for help, because I can imagine their insurance isn't going to cover anything. We just got notice that FEMA is going to stay open on Monday, on Memorial Day to help process some of that. Is that process moving along? Are people seeing signs of hope from the government?
MATTINGLY: I can only answer for the individuals that I have talked to. Right now, the people that you saw in my story, the man who's rebuilding his home and the woman who is living in her tents, both of them are receiving FEMA aid, the woman receiving enough to purchase a used trailer to move into. The man who's rebuilding his home, he received enough to get some materials to put new windows in his house and get his rebuilding started. They were very happy for that.
But they're also very happy for all the individuals who have stepped forward to help them to remove debris from their property, to bring them food, to bring them clothing. They say they really underestimated human nature until this tragedy happened to show them the true good side of the people around them.
GRIFFIN: David Mattingly in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Thanks, David.
Well, here is how you can help the people of Joplin, and Tuscaloosa, for that matter. Just log on to CNN.com/impact. Check out our special page. It has all the tools you need that you can help make a difference.
I'm Drew Griffin in the CNN Center in Atlanta. "PIERS MORGAN" is next.