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(Joplin, MO) -- A "direct hit." That's how officials are describing the tornado that tore through the town of Joplin, Missouri.
The Sunday afternoon twister killed at least two dozen people and injured many more.
The Joplin mayor has declared a local disaster.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety is now deploying search and rescue teams, medical personnel, and heavy equipment to Joplin.
The National Weather Service reports buildings have been leveled, and the regional medical center was directly in the path of the storm and has suffered heavy damage.
The tornado slammed into St. John's Hospital there, doing damage from the top to the bottom of the building.
One witness reported seeing a victim blown out of the building when the twister hit.
Portions of the top of St. John's Hospital were sheared off.
There are concerns about an explosion at the medical facility. There were also concerns there about a possible gas leak, which might have kept emergency crews from responding.
Springfield-based ambulances and EMS workers are being sent.
The Red Cross says volunteers are being mobilzed and a shelter has been set up at Missouri Southern State College at 3950 E. Newman Road in Joplin at the Leggett & Platt Ath Center.
For nurses or doctors looking to help, call (417) 832-9500 for the Greater Ozarks of the Red Cross.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is asking all first responders to go to Joplin to a command post at 34th & Main.
FEMA says it has also been in constant contact with officials at the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency since the severe weather hit.
Around 5:30 p.m. a multi-vortex tornado was reported near 13th and Rangeline Road with reports of damage to numerous trees and houses.
Ambulances can be seen around the entrance to the facility as some patients are being relocated.
A nearby gas station has been flattened, and a convenience store has been reduced to its foundation.
Dazed residents are on the streets of the neighborhood, helping some into wheelchairs, crying and hugging each other, and working with police and firefighters as they begin the process of accounting for everyone.
CoxHealth and St. John's health systems in Springfield have help en route to the scene.
However, a major barrier stands in their way. Interstate 44 is closed along mile marker 18 in Joplin due to the overturned traffic.
Between mile markers 10 and 12 on I-44, there were reports of trees stripped of bark and more than 20 semi trucks and cars overturned.
About two miles southeast of Joplin, the neighborhood at 22nd and Blackcat road saw massive damage to homes and trees, with people trapped in debris.
There are also reports of the Home Depot, Payless Shoes, Walgreens, Academy Sports, and Pizza Hut being heavily damaged in that area.
According to KOAM News, a Burger King at 15th and Range Line was destroyed, and King's Palace caught fire nearby.
A tractor trailer was turned over near the 15th Street Walmart. Plaza apartments and storage facilities behind the Walmart at 15th street also received damage.
Videographer Aaron Thompson was at 20th and Rhode Island and says damage at Commerce Bank, Papa Johns. Damage going east is "worse and worse."
Says he was unable to get to Range Line from that direction. "I didn't know where I was... street signs are just gone."
The Joplin High School is also reportedly destroyed. The graduation was Sunday, but held at Missouri Southern.
Debris from Sunday's storm has been reported several miles away.
"I live in Nixa and just found a Check from Joplin Mo dated in 1980," Emily Deese tells
Residents 70 miles away from Joplin in Dade County were finding X-rays from St. John's in their driveways, said Foreman, indicating the size and power of the twister.
Parts of the city were unrecognizable, according to Steve Polley, a storm chaser from Kansas City who described the damage as "complete devastation."The National Weather Service also reported a tornado on the ground just north of Pierce City around 6:30 p.m. and a possible tornado on the ground near Freistatt at 6:40 p.m.Structures were reported damaged on Highway 97 north of Pierce City.
Power poles were reported down across Highway V and the highway was ruled impassible with tornado damage.
There were also reports of trees down ten miles north of Rogersville and 6805 Highway KK.
Later in the day, there were reports of houses and mobile damage along with numerous trees down on Horse Creek Road east of Galena in Stone County.
The National Weather Service says there was also house damage on Bass Hollow Road east of Coon Ridge Road. A home was reportedly destroyed on Highway AA about a mile east of Highway 413.
Storms have hit more than nine states, and watches and warnings continue into the early morning hours in some areas.