JOPLIN, Mo. - A massive tornado blasted its way across southwestern Missouri on Sunday, flattening several blocks of homes and businesses in Joplin and leaving residents frantically scrambling through the wreckage.
Hundreds of windows were blown out of St. John's Regional Medical Center, where a notice gave staff time to hustle patients into hallways before the tornado struck the multistory building. All were quickly evacuated into the parking lot to be moved to other hospitals in the region.
The same storm system that produced the Joplin tornado spawned twisters along a broad swath of the Midwest, from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. At least one person was killed in Minneapolis and one in Kansas.
Missouri authorities said they could confirm that people had died in Joplin, but the numbers were unknown late Sunday.
Emergency management officials rushed heavy equipment to Joplin to help lift debris and clear the way for search and recovery operations. Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. Schools in the disaster zoned were flattened or severely damaged.
Phone communications in and out of the city of about 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City were largely cut off. Travel through and around Joplin was difficult, with Interstate 44 shut down and streets clogged with emergency vehicles and the wreckage of buildings.
On social networking sites, people with ties to Joplin and even those without were calling for prayers for the southwest Missouri city. Tornado warnings were posted throughout the evening for southwestern Missouri.
In Minneapolis, spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the death was confirmed by the Hennepin County medical examiner. She had no other immediate details. Only two of the 29 people injured there were hurt critically.
In Wisconsin, the mayor of La Crosse declared a state of emergency Sunday after a severe storm hit, tearing roofs from homes. No one was seriously injured.
Sunday's storms followed a tornado Saturday night that swept through the small eastern Kansas town of Reading, killing one person. Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson identified the victim as Don Chesmore, 53. He was in a mobile home that flipped.