The death toll from the deadliest tornado since modern record keeping began has climbed to 151 people. The May 22 twister claimed more lives from injuries, including Riverside police officer Jeff Taylor, who was struck by lightning the day after the tornado.
The death toll rose by 10 from the previous count Wednesday. The Springfield News-Leader reports Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel stated the death toll had risen due to those in hospitals who died from their injuries. The news comes as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Gov. Jay Nixon prepare to tour the devastation. Television station KOLR reports Nixon will likely ask for more funding to help with relief efforts for uninsured homes and businesses.
The number of dead comes at a time when the city should be focused on rebuilding. Springfield News-Leader reports ore of the injured have died in hospitals, including at least two who succumbed to severe fungal infections. The gigantic EF5 tornado spewed fungus into the air from beneath the soil. When the tiny bits of fungus got into the bloodstream of victims who were bleeding, the infection quickly spread.
Patients with fungal infections may have survived their initial injuries but then couldn't fight off the invasive infection. Although rare, health officials issued a memo to all professionals caring for the wounded.
As the death toll stands now, the tornado is the seventh deadliest on record and the worst single twister since 1947. Official records were not kept until 1950. As many as 181 people died in Woodward, Okla., April 9, 1947, when a 100-mile long path of destruction was caused by an F5 tornado. The storm was part of an outbreak of six tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas. The single deadliest tornado is still the Tri-State Tornado that struck Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in 1925. Almost 700 people lost their lives.
Southwest Missouri might have been spared the worst. The Joplin tornado was on the ground for only 13 miles and 20 minutes. Many F5 and EF5 tornadoes can last anywhere from 80 to 100 miles. If the massive tornado continued on the ground along Interstate 44, a metropolitan area of over a quarter million people would have been in the way of the 200 mph winds. Springfield, the third largest city in Missouri, is just 70 miles to the east of Joplin and would have been in the path of the storm.
For such a precise hit of only 13 miles long and a mile wide, the EF5 tornado was as rare and unusual as scientists feared when they surveyed the damage and the injured. Seventy miles more, and the tornado might have been the worst ever experienced by human beings.
William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.