Emergency responders from throughout Missouri have descended on Joplin after a mile-wide tornado devastated the Southwest Missouri town. Twenty four are confirmed dead, dozens are still missing.

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Wal-mart and Home Depot were hit hard when the twister hit near 6:30 p.m., and that’s a big concern to emergency personnel fearing lots of people were in the businesses when they caved in.

Shelly Dometrorch is a board member of Boone County Fire Protection District. She says they’ve sent their full Task Force 1 crew of 80 people.

Missouri Task Force 1 is one of only 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams in the country that specialize in search and rescue operations in building collapses. The force is equipped with specialized equipment designed to perform breeching and breaking of concrete and heavy steel, search equipment including visual and acoustical devices, medical equipment, K-9 search teams and other specialized equipment.

Dometrorch says this is what the task force is trained to do — Missouri Task Force 1 performed search and rescue at the World Trade Center on 9-11, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and several other catastrophic events throughout the United States.

The Kansas City Fire Department is reportedly taking over rescue operations in Joplin — sending all rescue trucks and 35 firefighters. The Joplin Fire Department was incapacitated by the storm damage.

St. John’s Hospital sustained heavy damage; Oxford Health Care, right across the street, is gone. All 183 patients at St. John’s have been evacuated and taken to Freeman Hospital.

Interstate 44 remains closed at this time.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office in Kansas City is standing by to offer what assistance it can to local officials dealing with the death and destruction in Joplin. Spokesman Josh Deberge says the team sent to Joplin is an experienced one that has dealt with many deadly disasters. But, he says they’re there to help, not take over — that it’s the local people on the ground who know how best to protect life and property.

Meteorologists are giving preliminary reports that the tornado was an EF-4.

Gov. Jay Nixon has activated the Missouri National Guard and has declared a state of emergency in Missouri to activate the State Emergency Operations Center. State and local law enforcement agencies, including fire mutual aid, are coordinating search and rescue and recovery operations.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has 40 troopers from Troop D area in Joplin, 10 additional troopers are on their way (at 1 a.m.), a mobile command vehicle to help with communications and dispatch, and 19 troopers that are going to be responding first thing in the morning, according to Lt. John Hotz. The Patrol also is deploying troopers from other regions to support local officers in southern Missouri. Specialized emergency response teams, including Missouri’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team 1 (MO-1 DMAT) are deploying to the area to provide aid and assistance. The Highway Patrol is asking all first responders to report to command post 34th and Main. Medical personnel who can help are asked to call 417-832-9500.

All gas service has been shut off in Joplin, even in areas not affected by the tornado. A boil order is also in place for all of Joplin.

“These storms have caused extensive damage across Missouri, and they continue to pose significant risk to lives and property,” Nixon says. “As a state, we are deploying every agency and resource available to keep Missouri families safe, search for the missing, provide emergency medical care, and begin to recover. I have ordered the Missouri National Guard to deploy Citizen-Soldiers and assets to support local law enforcement agencies with emergency coordination and recovery, and other state assets have been mobilized to provide emergency support as well. I urge Missourians to keep a close eye on the latest weather information and to follow the instructions and warnings of emergency personnel as these deadly storms continue to move through our state.”

Missourians who need disaster information, shelter information or referrals are urged to call 211. The 211 service number is now available for most areas in Missouri. In areas where the 211 number is not operational, citizens can call 800-427-4626. Weather and emergency information also are available on the state of Missouri’s website, www.MO.gov.

The Ozarks Red Cross is setting up shelters and says monetary donations are welcome. Those wanting to volunteer to help in Joplin should go to www.showmeresponse.org.

The Missourinet newsroom will continue to update this story as details become available. Information is also being posted on Facebook and on Twitter.