As people in Joplin sift through the rubble of their destroyed city in rescue efforts and recovery, the weather center has braced them for even more severe weather expected to hit the area. While here in Amarillo we have not had to deal with these severe weather conditions this year, we are trying to recover from a terrible drought and the wildfire threat is at an all time high. I really don't know which is worse.

JOPLIN, Mo. –  Rescue crews worked into the rain-soaked chill of night, ignoring lightning and strong winds to dig through splintered homes, crumpled businesses and crushed cars in this Missouri town walloped by the deadliest single tornado in nearly six decades. Even more ominous: More storms, possibly strong ones, were on the horizon.

The death toll in Joplin reached 117 on Tuesday and was expected to climb. But there were glimmers of hope: Rescuers pulled 17 people from the rubble, and Gov. Jay Nixon vowed that crews would keep searching until everyone is accounted for.

"They still think there are folks that could be alive," Nixon told The Associated Press. Searchlights were brought in for work to continue overnight.

The killer tornado ripped through the heart of Joplin, a blue-collar southwest Missouri town of 50,000 people, Sunday night, slamming straight into St. John's Regional Medical Center. The hospital confirmed that five of the dead were patients -- all of them in critical condition before the tornado hit. A hospital visitor also was killed.

The tornado destroyed possibly "thousands" of homes, Fire Chief Mitch Randles told AP. It leveled hundreds of businesses, including massive ones such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

It was the second major tornado disaster in less than a month. In April, a pack of twisters roared across six Southern states, killing more than 300 people, more than two-thirds of them in Alabama.

In Joplin, much of the town's landscape was changed beyond recognition. House after house was reduced to slabs, cars were crushed like soda cans and shaken residents roamed streets in search of missing family members.

The danger was by no means over. Fires from gas leaks burned across town. The smell of ammonia and propane filled the air in some damaged areas. And the forecast looked grim.

The April tornadoes that devastated the South unspooled over a three-day period starting in the Plains. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said a repeat could be setting up, with a possible large tornado outbreak in the Midwest on Tuesday and bad weather potentially reaching the East Coast by Friday.

"This is a very serious situation brewing," center director Russell Schneider said, citing a moderate risk of severe weather Tuesday in southwestern Missouri and in Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of North Texas.

Heavy rain fell from dark skies all day Monday, finally letting up only as night fell, and lightning was so frequent that it slowed the rescue and recovery effort, Randles said. A police officer from Riverside, Mo., who was helping with the rescues, was burned from a lightning strike and hospitalized. Another officer was slightly injured in a near-lightning strike but kept working.