Joplin missing hundreds of people after tornado chaos
By Thursday, nearly 100 hours after the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in 64 years, officials were still trying to find 232 people unaccounted for.
Fri, May 27 2011 at 6:03 AM
DEADLY TWISTER: The official death toll from the tornado had risen by one to 126 on Thursday, and more than 900 were injured. It was the eighth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
JOPLIN, Mo. - On the wall of the Red Cross shelter in Joplin was taped a poster with a picture of Emma Marie Hamp-Haines, on which someone had scrawled "FOUND."
Hamp-Haines was reunited with her daughter at the center on Wednesday, three days after a huge tornado carved a path of destruction through the city of 50,000 people known as a waystation on historic "Route 66."
"That made it worth it, to see a family brought together," said Amie Houston, a Missouri State University student, who watched the reunion.
The meeting of mother and daughter was a welcome happy ending in a town where too many other stories have ended in shock and tears.
By Thursday, nearly 100 hours after the deadliest tornado in the United States in 64 years, officials were still trying to find 232 people unaccounted for. State officials criticized for problems with information made available to the public swept in new resources Thursday.
"We will keep a relentless focus on the search, rescue and identification of those 232 people, and we will not rest until everyone has been accounted for, and that number is zero," Governor Jay Nixon said.
Getting accurate information out of the 6-mile-long scar left by Sunday's tornado has been a struggle. Cell phone service was spotty, landlines dropped and electric power remained cut for thousands across the city.
Local radio filled with callers hunting for friends and family. A Safe and Well list maintained by the Red Cross had more than 1,800 names registered and more than 79,000 searches by Thursday morning, spokesman Jim Rettew said.
Searchers hung five posters, including that of Hamp-Haines, on a glass case behind the Red Cross workers.
"One of the first questions we're asking is 'Have you notified your family? Do they know you're safe?'" Rettew said.
Missing number problems
Governor Nixon said Thursday the number of missing had fallen as stories like Hamp-Haines's came to light. He acknowledged the frustration and confusion over initial estimates of a staggering 1,500 missing reported for two days following the tornado.
As briefings continued for the media, the number of missing did not decline. Then on Wednesday, officials abruptly stopped giving out a figure at all.
State officials directed 60 investigators starting on Wednesday to work around the clock to deliver Thursday's more accurate number, Nixon said.
"We have absolutely no reason to hide anything from anybody," Nixon said.
Debbie Cummins, great-grandmother of 16-month-old Skyular Logdson, who was finally identified in a morgue on Wednesday, said she and others have tried for two days to verify with coronors' representatives that he has been located, as relatives of the boy's father have said.
"I want to know when there's going to be that next press conference because I want to ask 'where are our loved ones?'" Cummins said on Thursday. "I want to know this and not just for myself and our family. We can't get any answers."
Some of the remains recovered were in very poor condition, Nixon told reporters. Morgue workers, including a federal team, were working to ensure there were no incorrect identifications, he said.
"I don't know what you say to someone who was sitting at home eating dinner and heard the sirens and haven't seen their loved ones since," Nixon said.
The official death toll from the tornado had risen by one to 126 on Thursday, with the addition of Skyular. More than 900 were injured, according to government officials in Joplin. It was the eighth deadliest tornado in U.S. history.
Houston, the Red Cross shelter worker, was one of the lucky ones. She spent hours after the storm making phone calls and slowly locating her friends from school. Some of them managed a reunion at the shelter.
There wasn't a lot of talking," Houston said. "We didn't even need to say anything. It was the fact that we were all together."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)
Copyright 2011 Reuters US Online Report Domestic News