Residents wait for news of missing US tornado victims
Fear has given way to frustration in the shattered American town of Joplin as residents await official word on more than 200 loved ones missing since a record tornado killed 125 people.
Officials said on Thursday that 232 people were still missing from Sunday’s disaster, but some of them may be among the unidentified remains being stored in a hastily constructed mass morgue.
Authorities have sought to calm anxious family members while refusing to allow them to visit the morgue to try to identify loved ones, relying instead on a lengthy identification process involving DNA testing and fingerprinting.
“The 232, we can’t presume that all of those are deceased,” Andrea Spiller, Missouri’s deputy director of public safety, told reporters Thursday.
Some may simply have failed to contact anxious friends and family. There may also still be people trapped in the rubble who have not been officially reported missing, Spiller cautioned.
Asked why families were not being allowed into the morgue to visually identify their loved ones, she replied: “It is not 100% accurate, and 100% accurate is our goal.”
Joplin resident Tammy Niederhelman recounted the great frustration for families coming up against state and city authorities.
She told CNN she wanted closure after the horrific week but was not allowed to see bodies at the morgue as she frantically sought to confirm the death of her 12-year-old son, Zachary.
“It just feels as though the officials that orchestrated this whole deal, they really care less. It seems to me that they want to get on to clean-up and maybe start building or whatever,” she said.
Flags were to be flown at half-mast on Friday in honour of the victims of the tornado—the deadliest to strike America in six decades—which followed a wave of tornadoes that killed hundreds in the US south last month. The monster funnel cloud tore apart everything it touched along a path 6mk long and more than a kilometre wide in this city of 50 000.
Crews continue to search through the tangled piles of debris in hope of finding survivors, but hopes were fading five days after the storm.
Anguished families have kept up a desperate hunt for their missing loved ones, but poor and patchy communications plus the complete devastation of some areas have hampered the search.
Officials said they hoped that by publishing the list of 232 names they could locate the missing and ease the frayed nerves of their families.
“Our goal is to get that number to zero,” Spillers said.”
The heartbreaking pleas for help and information have been replayed constantly on the local radio and on social networking sites.
But for some the long vigil has already ended in sorrow.
Baby Skyular Logsdon was ripped from his mother’s arms by the powerful winds, and his desperate family took to social networking site Facebook for help to find the 16-month-old.
After several false leads and three days of waning hopes, his body was found in a morgue late on Wednesday.
“We all love you so much and you will be missed by everyone,” his aunt posted on the Facebook page that has been inundated with outpourings of support and condolences.
Still missing is Will Norton, the 18-year-old who was sucked out of his father’s Hummer as they were driving home from his high school graduation.
Teams of volunteers joined the search Thursday in what his aunt Tracey wrote was a day “mixed with nervousness and deep hope”.
In a further sign of tragedy, some whole families were listed as missing, along with at least 15 people from area nursing homes.
There was the Merritt family, ages two, five, eight, 26, and 28, and the Reyes family, with parents Maria and Fredy and their two girls, aged 3 and 4.
More than 8 000 structures in the Midwestern town were damaged or destroyed when the twister packing winds over 320km/h came roaring through with just a 24-minute warning.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, meanwhile, ordered the state’s national guard to remove the wasteland of debris left by the tornado, a mission he described as an “enormous task” but crucial for the city’s recovery.
The city has, meanwhile, sent a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance in removing the rubble.
Nixon has announced plans for a community memorial service Sunday, the same day that US President Barack Obama is set to visit the city.—AFP