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It's 'heart-wrenching' work for tornado rescuers

A crew has a grisly discovery at a destroyed Home Depot in Joplin, Mo.

May 25, 2011|By Matt Pearce
  • Members of the Missouri Task Force One search-and-rescue team work at a Home Depot in Joplin , Mo.
Members of the Missouri Task Force One search-and-rescue team work at a… (Jeff Roberson, Associated…)

Reporting from Joplin, Mo. — When the demonic twister struck Joplin, killing at least 122 people, it sheared the roof off the Home Depot and toppled its front wall -- a massive concrete slab more than 8 inches thick.

Several people were crushed beneath the slab, and the store became the focus of a complicated recovery effort.

At least one crew -- the Missouri Task Force 1 urban rescue team, based in Boone County, Mo. -- drilled 2-inch holes through concrete to drop small cameras into the space beneath to find victims.

Photos: Devastation in Joplin, Mo.

The highly trained, all-volunteer task force cut through layers of concrete and steel using diamond-bladed saws and high-powered torches normally used to cut through hulls of submarines.

The team leader, Doug Westhoff, called the work "heart-wrenching." The crew found eight people dead, the most recent Tuesday morning.

"There was a guy who recognized his son-in-law's truck in the parking lot," Westhoff said, pointing to a crushed pickup nearby. "He just knew his grandkids and his son-in-law were in the store. And he was right."

Pearce is a special correspondent.

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