JOPLIN, Missouri, May 24: US states braced for more storms Monday after a tornado in Missouri killed 116 people, putting it on course to be the deadliest single twister to strike the United States in six decades.
Forecasters warned more potent storms were on the way around Joplin, Missouri where the massive twister struck Sunday causing 116 deaths -- matching the deadliest tornado recorded since modern US readings began in 1950.
A single twister in 1925 is said to have left 695 dead in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, but the records are less accurate.
Officials warned the death toll in Missouri was sure to rise after Sunday´s massive twister cut a swath of destruction four miles (6.4 kilometers) long and three quarters of a mile (more than a kilometer) wide.
"There are going to be some things out there that are going to be hard to see and stomach," Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said as he asked people to pray.
"We remain positive and optimistic that there are lives out there to be saved. We´re going to go through every foot of this town and make sure that every person is accounted for," Nixon told reporters.
Some 1,150 wounded people were treated in area hospitals after Sunday´s twister, The Joplin Globe reported.
But weather forecasters warned of more storms approaching.
"We are currently forecasting a major severe weather outbreak for Tuesday over the central United States with strong tornadoes likely over Oklahoma, Kansas, extreme northern Texas, southwest Missouri," said Russell Schneider, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration´s Storm Prediction Center.
Officials said the last single twister to wreak such loss of life occurred on June 8, 1953 when 116 people were killed in Flint, Michigan.
On Sunday, flames and smoke from broken gas lines shot up through the wreckage in Joplin as block after block of homes and businesses were reduced to rubble and cars were tossed so violently into the air that they turned into crumpled heaps of metal.
Heavy rain, lightning and strong winds hampered relief efforts while hundreds of exhausted rescue workers carefully picked their way through the rubble with the help of sniffer dogs.
Disaster struck late Sunday when, with just 24 minutes warning, the monster twister packing winds of up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) an hour tore through the center of town.
More than 2,000 buildings -- or about a third of the city of 50,000 near the border with Kansas and Oklahoma -- were damaged or destroyed.
Jeff Law, 23, was able to take shelter in a storm cellar and was overwhelmed by what he saw when he emerged.
"I´ve lived in this neighborhood my entire life, and I didn´t know where I was," Law told the Springfield News-Leader. "Everything was unrecognizable, completely unrecognizable. It´s like Armageddon."
Roger Dedick used a metal bar to pry himself out of his crushed home only to find that one of his neighbors had been killed.
"That´s all that´s left," he told AFP as he pointed to the cement foundation.
Caring for the injured was made more difficult because the main hospital, Saint John´s Regional Medical Center, had to be evacuated after suffering a direct hit -- the tornado ripped off its roof and smashed all its windows.
A tangled medical helicopter lay in the rubble of crushed cars, broken glass and medical records strewn outside the hospital.
President Barack Obama sent his "deepest condolences" to victims and said the federal government would provide whatever assistance was needed.
"We commend the heroic efforts by those who have responded and who are working to help their friends and neighbors at this very difficult time," the president said in a statement sent from Air Force One as he flew to Europe.
It was the deadliest of 73 tornadoes reported to the National Weather Service in nine central states on Saturday and Sunday and comes less than a month after a horrific tornado outbreak left 361 in April across several US states.
"This is certainly one of the most devastating scenes I´ve ever seen," said Perry Elkins, a former army medic who was managing a shelter set up by the Red Cross.