Report: Most Joplin Residents Ignored First Tornado Alarm

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May 23, 2011, 161 killed

The town of Joplin, Mo., sat squarely in the path of a massive tornado on May 23. Once done, the twister had crushed three square miles of residential area with winds exceeding 200 mph, killing at least 117 and flattening about 1,000 houses, along with restaurants, stores of all sizes and even a school and hospital. In a town where having a basement isn’t a given, getting to cover quickly proved difficult for some. Plus, the baseball-sized hail and downpour of rain immediately following the tornado hampered immediate rescue efforts.

“The vast majority” of residents in Joplin, Mo. ignored the initial warning siren for the May 22 tornado that killed 159 people and injured more than 1,000, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Weather Service investigation found people widely disregarded the alarms because they complained of them sounding frequently in tests and as a precaution in bad weather, the report noted.

(PHOTOS: Signs from Joplin)

“This was a warned event,” said Kathryn Sullivan, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), noting that forecasters warned of a strong possibility of twisters several days before the tragedy.

Keith Stammer, head of the local county’s emergency management agency, said the department issued two sets of sirens ahead of the tornado but that many people in the southwest Missouri city ignored the first warning. He added that some people mistakenly thought the second siren gave the all clear.

“Honestly it was a bit of a disappointment that there were so many people who didn’t move to shelter after the first warning,” Stammer said. “The human side is the part that’s most frustrating.”

The team from the weather service, a department under NOAA, issued the report into one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history. Investigators aimed to identify what was done correctly and areas that could be improved.

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