Posted at 10:44 AM ET, 05/24/2011

Joplin , Mo., tornado: Survivors react, Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes breaks down (Video)

Ashley Stephens holds a ferret she rescued from the home of a missing woman while helping a friend collect belongings in Joplin, Mo. (Charlie Riedel - AP)
The tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo., on Sunday — the United State’s deadliest in nearly 60 years — has left at least 117 people dead, 500 injured and much of the town essentially destroyed. Despite heavy rain, rescuers have been able to pull 17 people from the rubble so far. More severe weather is in Tuesday’s forecast for Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.

Ron Smalling, who works at the Joplin hospital hit by the tornado, told NBC affiliate WBIR that the town looked like “a war zone” after the storm. Joshua Wohlford took cover from the storm with his pregnant girlfriend and children in a Wal-Mart. He told the Associated Press, “It was 15 minutes of hell.”

Rescuer Doug Westhoff told KSPR in Springfield, Mo., “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve done this, it just rips your heart out when you stand and watch a family member waiting for their loved ones to be recovered from an environment like this.”

(Readers can share how the tornado has affected them with the Post here.)

Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes couldn’t hold back his emotions when he arrived to the scene Monday.

Bettes, who was tracking the storm with his crew, was one of the first reporters to see the devastation firsthand. As Bettes surveyed the flattened homes and mass destruction, he began to break down on camera.

Bettes told Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday night that the storm “didn’t look that impressive” when his team began chasing it. He said he’s seen similar tornado damage before, but not to the same extent that Joplin has experienced.

Despite the grim situation in Joplin, there was a moment of hope Monday, as rescuers recovered a dog from the rubble.

Watch survivors of the tornado describe their experience to the AP.

By  |  10:44 AM ET, 05/24/2011

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