JOPLIN, Mo. — Rescue and recovery work in Joplin was shadowed by uncertainty today as crews still hoping to find survivors combed areas that had already been searched several times and engineers entered the battered Joplin hospital where the tornado killed five to see if it could be salvaged.
The death toll has reached at least 122, with 750 people hurt, from a mighty twister that the National Weather Service said was an EF5, the strongest rating assigned to tornadoes, with winds of more than 200 mph. But officials in the southwest Missouri city of 50,000 people say they still hope to find more survivors after two people were rescued from the rubble Tuesday, bringing the total to nine.
"We are still in a search-and-rescue mode," said Mark Rohr, Joplin's city manager. "I want to emphasize that."
Even as Joplin limped forward, violent weather struck again, killing at least eight in Oklahoma, three in Arkansas and two more in Kansas. Late-night tornado sirens had Joplin's residents ducking for cover before the storm brushed past without serious problems.
Officials at St. John's Regional Medical Center sent structural engineers into the nine-story building hit squarely by the twister to see whether it could be saved.
"It's truly was like a bomb went off almost on every floor," chief executive Gary Pulsipher said.
Lynn Britton, president and chief executive of Sisters of Mercy Health Systems, praised the "heroic" efforts by staff and others who helped in the storm's aftermath and said a temporary hospital would be running near the site by Sunday. Patient information was safe after the hospital moved from paper to electronic records in May.
Social networks were the tool of choice for many people trying to track the missing — or to let their loved ones know they were OK.
Several online efforts have focused on Will Norton, a teenager who vanished on his way home from his high school graduation ceremony. Norton was driving with his father, Mark Norton, when the storm hit his Hummer H3. The vehicle flipped several times, and Will was thrown from it, likely through the sunroof.
Sara Norton was on the phone with her father as the two drove home. Mark Norton asked her to open the family's garage door so Mark and Will could get inside quickly. But the two never made it.
I could hear him saying, 'Will, pull over, pull over,'" Sara Norton said.
Mark Norton tried to grab his son, but the storm was too strong. He was hospitalized Tuesday, seriously hurt but still able to talk to his family about what happened.
Will's sister, Sara Norton, and other relatives drove to hospitals throughout Missouri to search for Will. More than 19,000 people supported the "Help Find Will Norton" community page on Facebook, and Twitter users were tweeting heavily about the missing teen.
"I just want to find him, that's all," Sara Norton said Tuesday, on her way home from a Springfield, Mo., hospital. "I'm just determined. I have to find him."