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In Joplin, a push to find missing; reconnect families

By Phil Gast, CNN
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Father: 'We can't just stand by anymore'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Governor sends more troopers to assist families
  • City officials caution many were out of town, or left after the storm
  • Facebook pages and other websites also are sources of information

(CNN) -- A large metal cross soars above the ruin of the Catholic church, a beacon in a Joplin, Missouri, neighborhood made unrecognizable by Sunday's powerful tornado.

"If we didn't have faith right now, I don't know how we would get through this," said Sharyn Dawson, while her husband, Jerry, continued the search for his mother, Patricia Dawson, 74, who lived across the street from the church.

As the Dawsons dug through the debris Wednesday afternoon, 25 volunteers from Texas stopped by, helping to move steel trusses from St. Mary's Church that landed in the front yard of the housing unit.

Patricia Dawson has been missing since Sunday, when the twister hit the two-story quadplex in which she was living, her daughter-in-law told CNN. A neighbor was killed, Sharyn Dawson said.

The storm killed at least 125 people, and an estimated 750 people were treated at area hospitals.

The city said Wednesday it had no official tally for the missing.

An undetermined number of people remained unaccounted for Wednesday, after the tornado ravaged phone service, destroyed homes and cars, and gutted the regional hospital.

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Gov. Jay Nixon told CNN he ordered 20 more state troopers to Joplin to help speed up the process of identifying remains and assisting people looking for missing loved ones.

Nixon said he acted after he became aware of complaints that the process was moving too slowly and that many families felt they were getting conflicting and confusing information. Such additional resources will help agencies dealing with the magnitude of the disaster, he said.

Nixon told CNN's Anderson Cooper officials were working overnight Wednesday on synthesizing information they can release to families.

About 100 volunteers are cross-referencing lists and cell phone numbers in a bid to reconnect families and determine who is truly missing, Lynn Onstot, Joplin public information officer, said earlier Wednesday.

"We feel like we are getting a better handle on it," Onstot said.

Earlier in the week, Keith Stammer, emergency management director for the city and surrounding Jasper County, told CNN that 1,500 people were unaccounted for.

But "when we open up the area and start letting them come back in ... that number of unaccounted for will start to dwindle," Stammer said.

Joplin officials caution that the 1,500 number doesn't equate to missing.

"This does NOT mean they are injured or deceased, just that loved ones are not aware of their whereabouts," the city said on its Facebook page. "Some people may have been out of area when the storm hit or have since left."

Nixon said he expects the 1,500 number to be much smaller Thursday.

The city is encouraging residents to use its Facebook page, a Red Cross website or call 417-659-5464.

Sharyn Dawson has been impressed by the effort, which has included several agencies.

"They've been amazing, given the colossal task," said Dawson, of Springfield, Missouri.

Since Sunday, some 1,500 people in Joplin have registered at safeandwell.org to let loved ones and acquaintances know their status, said Attie Poirier, media relations associate for the American Red Cross, which operates the site.

Site users have conducted 73,000 searches. They must have a name and a predisaster address or telephone number in order to search, Poirier said.

The effort to locate the missing or unaccounted for has gone viral, with Facebook pages allowing users to exchange information.

One, "Joplin, MO - Missing Persons & Survivors Page," includes photos of those who have not been located. Occasionally, someone posts that a relative or friend has been found.

The "Help Find Will Norton" Facebook page asked volunteers to distribute to local hospitals flyers showing the 18-year-old man, who was ripped from his vehicle during the tornado.

Michael Hare continued his search for son, Lantz, 16, who was last seen before the tornado. "I've got to keep pushing," he told CNN Wednesday evening. "You've got to have hope."

Hare said he can't wait for word from officials and will check other cities to see if his son is hospitalized there.

A heart-lifting reunion between a "John Doe" and his family took place Wednesday at Freeman West Hospital in Joplin.

Hundreds of patients arrived Sunday night at the hospital, among them a critically injured man whose face was swollen and was unable to speak, said Allen Overturf, director of critical care.

The patient had no identity and the staff was going to have state police fingerprint him.

The family of Mark Lindquist had heard of a "John Doe" at the hospital and called, informing them that Lindquist has a distinctive brown spot in the eye.

The match was made.

Later Wednesday, Lindquist's 11-year-old son and sister came to the hospital, where their loved one remained in critical condition.

CNN's Mike M. Ahlers and John King contributed to this report.

 
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