Red Cross responds to tornado destruction in Missouri

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The tornado that caused a trail of destruction across the US state of Missouri is one of the worst the country has experienced in living memory, killing at least 116 people and leaving thousands homeless. The city of Joplin, and its 50,000 residents, saw the most damage from winds of almost 200mph. Early estimates suggest that 25 per cent of the city, including much of the St John’s Regional Medical Center, has been destroyed.

Within hours of the tornado hitting the region, the American Red Cross opened shelters in Missouri and Minnesota to provide protection and comfort for people whose homes were damaged or destroyed. The shelter in Joplin, which can take up to 1,000 people, was used by 110 people on Sunday night. 200 people spent the night in a shelter in Minneapolis.

Charley Shimanski, senior vice president, Red Cross Disaster Services, said the organization was doing all it could to help. "Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who lost loved ones or have suffered through these deadly storms," he said. "The Red Cross already has people on the ground to help in these communities, and we have more on the way."

In addition to providing shelter, comfort kits, tarpaulins, coolers and tools for clearing up are being sent from Red Cross warehouses to the worst hit areas, along with volunteers and staff capable of dealing with health and psychsocial issues. An emergency communications vehicle has also been deployed to temporarily replace damaged infrastructure.

Tornado season is an annual event in the Midwest of the United States, but 2011 is likely to be above average in terms of the strength and frequency of storms. The American Red Cross said that this year more than half of the country had been affected by damaging weather, including the flooding that has occurred in recent weeks along the Mississippi river and its tributaries.