In Joplin, Mo., Survivors Search For Missing

fromKCUR

Hundreds of people are still missing in Joplin, Mo., after Sunday's tornado. They are desperate to reunite with loved ones, and they are using different ways to find them. Local radio station KZRG has become a lifeline in this community. But people are also relying on the Red Cross "safe and well" registry — and even Facebook.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The people of tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri are still on edge and still grappling with the scope of the loss they've suffered. In addition to the 123 people now confirmed dead, some 700 mothers, brothers, children and friends remain unaccounted for.

The good news is many of the missing are likely safe and will reunite with loved ones.

Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports on the effort to reconnect.

FRANK MORRIS: Chad Elliot is the combination morning talk host and operations manager at Zimmer Radio in Joplin. So he was on the air giving updates as the twister tore into town, bearing down on his home. Then he got an urgent text from his wife.

Mr. CHAD ELLIOT (Talk Show Host, Zimmer Radio): I don't know what to do. I'm scared. I think the tornado is getting ready to hit. So I texted her back and said, well, get into the tornado shelter immediately and take cover. And that was the last I heard from her.

MORRIS: Elliot stayed on the air, not knowing what happened to his wife or daughter.

Many, if not most folks in Joplin had the same horrible experience in the wake of the breathtakingly violent storm. Communication was cut - phone lines, electricity and mobile services were all out. The one lifeline was the radio station.

Mr. ELLIOTT: FM 102.9 AM 1310 "News Talk" KCRG. A lot of people are calling and asking about the permits.

Unidentified Man: Oh, yeah.

Mr. ELLIOTT: The permits to get into the damaged areas of town. And you have to have a permit.

MORRIS: Hours after the storm, Elliot found his wife and daughter, safe in the shell of their ruined home. They're staying with family.

(Soundbite of a barking dog)

MORRIS: Elliot's had to bring his dog to work. And he's been on the air almost ever since, taking calls from people desperate to find friends and family.

Mr. ELLIOTT: I just believe we are doing what radio was meant to do. We're here broadcasting the information that everyone needs. We're reconnecting families.

MORRIS: As electricity and Internet have been restored, desperate family members have turned to computer banks like this one at a Red Cross shelter.

Volunteers, like Nancy Rainy here, take calls from people searching for the missing, and check the information against a database, the Safe and Well Check Registry. That's a list of people displaced but still alive.

Ms. NANCY RAINYTREE (Volunteer, American Red Cross): Okay, we don't have her listed on the Safe and Well site, but that - it doesn't mean that there's anything that's happened. It just means that she has not checked-in with American Red Cross.

MORRIS: There are lots of reasons so many remain missing. Some may be entombed deep in collapsed buildings. Many others were pulled unconscious from the wreckage.

Ms. VICKY SENRUD: We were buried alive, but we came out okay.

MORRIS: Vicky and Ben Senrud were among hundreds rushed unidentified to hospitals in four states. Just today, they made contact with the outside world, reaching their landlord.

Ms. SENRUD: She said that I've been unaccounted for since the storm, since the tornado Sunday. When was that, Sunday?

Mr. BEN SENRUD: We lost everything. I mean, we didn't have no identification, nothing. And it was a while before we finally got here, and these people let us use their phone.

MORRIS: For many, the search for loved ones has ended badly. Joe Petronis stands wearily outside a shelter watching his toddler son bang on a pipe. Petronis says he was on edge for two days.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. JOE PETRONIS: His name was Dennis Osborn. He was my uncle. He was in Home Depot when the tornado hit. And they found his truck but they couldn't find him. Two days ago, they found his friend that was with him. And yesterday, they found him trapped under a bunch of debris.

MORRIS: Every day, more people are accounted for. But families of the missing here face the unsettling reality, that some of those lost in this tornado may never be found.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Joplin, Missouri.

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