Four days after America's deadliest tornado for six decades tore through this town, levelling buildings, tossing cars and peeling bark from every tree in its path, 232 people were still missing, officials said yesterday. The official death toll stood at 125.
The authorities appeared overwhelmed with the task of scouring the tornado's path – an area six miles long and nearly a mile wide – for survivors and victims, while drawing up lists of the dead and missing. With blocked streets and neighbourhoods strewn with impenetrable layers of wreckage, it remained impossible to determine whether all the dead had been found or if some survivors were still trapped.
"Look, that's my roof over there. There could be someone under there right now. I don't know," Jason Hobson, 36, said. He and his wife, Khya, rummaged through his house for belongings. With no roof and two outside walls missing, the home sits now in a sea of jumbled bricks, snapped tree limbs, steel sheeting and crumpled cars.
The city remains unable to give up the task of searching for survivors. "I am hopeful," the Joplin fire chief Mitch Randles said. "We've had stories from earthquakes and tsunamis and other disasters of people being found two or three weeks later, and we are hopeful we'll have a story like that to tell."
Part of the frustration for many families has been the fluctuating numbers of missing persons, which until yesterday had stood at 1,500. The figure was cut down to 232 as more people, many of whom fled town, have checked in with the authorities.
"Our goal is to get that number to zero," Andrea Spillars, deputy director of the state's Department of Public Safety, told reporters in a morning news conference. "We will dedicate as much state resources as needed around the clock to ensure those families who have loved ones that they cannot find are connected."
Among those still missing was Will Norton, the young man sucked through the sunroof of his father's Hummer as they drove home from a High School graduation ceremony late on Sunday afternoon. They were just short of the relative safety of their home when the tornado hit.
Finally finding someone can, of course, mean confirming a worst fear. A 16-month-old boy, Skyular Logsdon, who was ripped from his mother's arms during the tornado, was found dead in the area, his father confirmed just yesterday. The disappearance of the infant had made headlines worldwide.