Frustration Rises Among Joplin, Mo., Residents

As rescue efforts in Joplin, Mo., wind down and clean up begins in earnest, tension is building. Residents have become upset by the lack of information about missing persons — and over attempts by the local government to control the disaster area.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Five days after the massive tornado in Joplin, Missouri, there is frustration along with the heartbreak. The death toll is still rising. More than 130 people are now counted dead, and the number of missing people is falling.

Many people on that list have been found alive, but for some families, there is still little information about their loved ones, and they're distressed about how long it's taking to identify the victims. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON: When you think about how horrible things turned out, it's hard to remember that most of Sunday was really just ordinary day in Joplin.

The local high school was having its graduation. There was the normal Sunday traffic at the Walmart. Dennis Tyndall was out with his friends, and he left his brother hanging out at his house.

Mr. DENNIS TYNDALL: I had gone off to a friend's birthday party, and after they gave us the all clear, I pretty much flew over there, and I had to park two blocks away and climb over the rubble, and thats where I found him.

GLINTON: Dennis Tyndall and his mother Margie King say they know Michael was killed in the tornado and where his body is. What they dont understand is why they cant bury him. .

Mr. TYNDALL: We just want my brother back. That's all we want is just to get him back. We want it done and over with.

Ms. MARGIE KING: We want to know where he is so our mortuary can go pick him up, and let's get him out of the cold, you know, and taken care of.

Mr. DON BLOOM (Federal Disaster Mortuary Response Team): We have to be 100 percent accurate.

GLINTON: Don Bloom is with the Federal Disaster Mortuary Response Team. Thats the group thats identifying the dead here.

Mr. BLOOM: And our people are dedicated in not being pushed into making rash decisions or speeding things up. That is why the process on our side takes a little bit longer than it needs to - than you feel it needs to.

GLINTON: Bloom says while that process may seem tedious to some, its the only way to be sure that loved ones are correctly identified.

Mr. BLOOM: We have a family center where were interviewing families. We do an eight-page interview. It takes about two to three hours. We do DNA sampling from the families also.

From that point, we have to secure medical records. The challenge we face here is your major health facility is not operational, so some of those records may be not obtainable.

GLINTON: The day after the tornado, some medical records from the hospital were found scattered as far as 70 miles away. Bloom says his team is making progress identifying and releasing bodies to victims' families each day.

But frustration in Joplin is building not just over missing people but over all aspects of the new reality here. To relieve some of the pressure and blunt criticism, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon held a forum with his Cabinet here yesterday.

Governor JAY NIXON (Democrat, Missouri) The purpose of this meeting today is to provide you with practical assistance that will help you get back on your feet and start taking those first steps on the long road to recovery.

GLINTON: More than a thousand residents attended the forum. There were booths to handle everything from healthcare to unemployment insurance. Debra Giddens and her daughter Tina went to the forum to see just what the plan of action was.

Unidentified Woman #1: You know, how are we going to fix it, not just we have volunteers here. I don't know. It's - there's a lot of questions.

Unidentified Woman #2: They're here today, but they're not going to be here after a week's time. They're going to be gone, and we're still going to be dealing with it.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Unintelligible) six months to have a home again. So what are we going to do next week, whenever Joplin is last week's news?

GLINTON: Governor Nixon says when that happens, he and others here will do whatever they can to heal and rebuild this wounded city.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Joplin.

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