JOPLIN, Mo. — As emergency workers searched Thursday for more than 230 people on a list of the missing after a tornado smacked into Joplin, one of them was sitting in a wooden chair outside the wreckage of her home, cuddling her cat.
Sally Adams, 75, said neighbours rescued her Sunday after the storm destroyed her house and took her to a friend’s home. When The Associated Press told Adams she was on the missing list, she laughed and said “Get me off of there!”
Missouri officials had said they believed many of the missing were safe and alive but simply hadn’t been in touch with friends and family. When they released the list of 232 names Thursday, they urged survivors to check in. Cell phone service in the city remains spotty.
“Our goal is to get that number to zero,” Andrea Spillars, deputy director and general counsel of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said of the missing. “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.”
The death toll rose Wednesday to 125 people, not all of them identified, and officials have estimated more than 900 were injured.
Adams said she lost her phone in the storm and had no way of contacting her family to let them know she was OK. She was placed on the missing list after relatives called a hot line and posted Facebook messages saying she was missing.
Adams’ son, Bill Adams, said he told authorities his mother was alive after he learned she was safe, yet she remained on their unaccounted-for list at midday Thursday.
Not all of the stories of people on the list will end so well. Spillars said officials know some are dead, but she wouldn’t say how many or say when names of the deceased would be released.
One example of the potential overlap: 12 residents of the Greenbriar Nursing Home are listed as missing. But nursing home administrators reported earlier that 11 people died in the tornado; only one resident was known missing.
One of the 12 listed as missing from Greenbriar is Dorothy Hartman, an Alzheimer’s patient. Pamela McBroom, 49, who lives near the nursing home, said one of her daughters used to work there, developed a soft spot for Hartman and introduced them. Hartman was frail “but very positive and full of life,” she said.
McBroom said she and her 16-year-old daughter were hiding in a closet when the tornado tore their walls and roof away. Her walls gone, McBroom could see the mayhem at Greenbriar.
“I could see people flying out of the nursing home by my house,” McBroom said. “I could hear them screaming. Just screaming. It was horrible.”
It still wasn’t known Thursday what happened to Hartman. Nursing home officials haven’t said whether she was one of the 11 who died.
Search-and-rescue teams have made multiple sweeps through the destruction, using dozens of dogs and listening devices in hopes of picking up the faint sound of anyone still alive beneath the collapsed homes and businesses. No new survivors have been pulled from the rubble since Tuesday.
Some families have complained about not being allowed into the morgue to try to identify missing relatives. Asked about that Thursday, Don Bloom, the deputy commander for family assistance for the mortuary team, said “the process has to take its time. We have to be 100 per cent accurate.”