More than 230 people are still unaccounted for in Joplin, Mo. five days after one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history ripped through the town, officials said. The twister leveled homes and businesses and the official death toll stands at 126.
A list of 232 names on the missing list was released Thursday, but The Associated Press located at least a dozen of the missing. They included two survivors staying at a hotel, six that a relative said were staying with friends and one that a former employee said had been moved from his nursing home.
Officials said previously they believe people who are unaccounted for aren't necessarily dead or trapped in debris. They say many are probably safe but have not told friends and family where they are. Cellphone service in Joplin remains spotty.
Andrea Spillars, deputy director and general counsel for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said officials were working to get the "missing" list to zero.
"We will dedicate as much state resources as needed around the clock to ensure those family who have loved ones that they cannot find are connected," she said.
Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles said he still thought it was possible to pull survivors out of the wreckage of Sunday's powerful tornado, the deadliest to hit the U.S. in nearly 60 years.
"I am hopeful," 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."
Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr announced Thursday that the death toll had risen to 126.
Some of their families waited Thursday for their remains to be released. One victim's funeral was scheduled for Friday morning in Galena, Kansas, and other services were scheduled for the weekend.
But some of the bodies have yet to be identified. Andrea Spillars, deputy director and general counsel of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said officials know some of the people unaccounted for are dead, but she wouldn't say how many or when the names of the deceased would be released.
Mike Hare has scoured the ravaged Joplin neighborhood where his 16-year-old son, Lantz, last was seen. He has called hospitals from Dallas to Kansas City.
"We know he's hurt somewhere," Hare said. "We just can't sit and keep calling. You've got to be moving."
Hare is among an increasingly desperate group of people in Joplin pleading for help in tracking down one of the people still missing in the wake of Sunday's storm. They're scrawling signs in wreckage, calling in by the hundreds to local radio stations and posting on the Internet.
Randles and others leading the search effort say it's impossible to know exactly how many people are truly missing, because many may have simply left the area without getting in touch with their families. They believe most will turn out to be OK.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service canceled tornado watches and warnings for most of Mississippi, northwestern Alabama and central Kentucky on Thursday. Jared Guyer, a forecaster at the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the situation had calmed to a "relative lull."
"We don't have any existing watches," Guyer said Thursday. "There is a severe threat, but not on the magnitude of the last few days."
He said the Appalachians, parts of the Southeastern U.S., and the upper Ohio Valley into the Northeastern U.S. remained at "severe risk."
In Missouri, a tornado struck the west-central town of Sedalia, destroying dozens of mobile homes and ripping through six blocks of businesses. About 20 people suffered minor injuries. Officials in Sedalia ended the school year several days early because of damage to buses.
Central Indiana was also assessing damage after a powerful storm system brought severe thunderstorms and tornadoes overnight. At least a dozen people were hospitalized and homes were swept off their foundations.
In Bedford, resident Vicki Lee watched as the tornado slammed into her neighbor's house.
"It was scary and you just have a lot of emotions going on, praying that everybody is OK and safe, and hoping that no lives have been lost in it," she told NPR.
"We're very fortunate," Lawrence County Sheriff Sam Craig told the AP.
Strong winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings Wednesday across central and eastern Illinois.
"Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages," said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.
Wednesday's storms followed a deadly outbreak Tuesday in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 15 people.
NPR's Sonari Glinton in Joplin, Marshall Griffon from St. Louis Public Radio, and Sara Wittmeyer of member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press was also used.