At least 30 people are known to have been killed by a powerful tornado that plowed through the southwestern Missouri town of Joplin on Sunday, Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges told Reuters by telephone.

The storm left behind piles of brick and wood where homes once stood. Cars were ripped apart and thrown on top of each other.

A wrecked helicopter lay on its side in front of a damaged hospital. All that was left on one hillside was bare trees, stripped of their leaves and branches.

The devastation was reminiscent of Tuscaloosa, Ala., were 41 people were killed in a tornado last month.

Missouri authorities said they could confirm that people had died in Joplin, but the numbers were unknown late Sunday and police said they had stopped the search overnight.

Details about the number of fatalities and injuries were difficult to obtain even for emergency management officials, because the tornado knocked out power, landline phones and some cellphone towers, said Greg Hickman, assistant emergency management director in Newton County.