Rescue teams and anguished families on Wednesday were desperately searching for nearly 1,500 people listed as missing since a tornado ripped through a Missouri town, killing at least 125 residents.
However, hopes of finding more survivors were fading as the third day of painstaking searches through the devastated homes of Joplin found no one in the rubble — either dead or alive.
Officials are hoping that many of the missing have simply failed to check in with friends or family, but they also caution that the death toll is sure to rise given the incredible scope of destruction.
In what is one of the worst tornado seasons on record after a series of twisters killed hundreds in southern US states last month, Sunday’s twister in Joplin is now the worst single tornado to strike America in six decades.
The massive twister tore apart everything it touched along a path 6km long and more than 1km wide in this city of 50,000.
Heartbreaking stories were -being replayed hourly on the local radio and on social networking sites as people searched for their loved ones, including panicked parents separated from their children.
The family of 16-month-old Skyular Logsdon launched an anxious search using the social network Facebook for the baby boy ripped from his mother’s arms by the powerful winds.
Teenager Lantz Hare is also missing since being out driving with friends when the massive funnel cloud, with winds of up to 320kph, hit Joplin with devastating force.
The American Red Cross has set up a Web site for people to list the names of the missing, but they have had little success so far reuniting families.
Assistant shelter manager Amanda Marshall is among them — her four-year-old niece and the girl’s grandparents were nowhere to be found when her brother discovered the bodies of his wife and other daughter.
Further complicating matters is the fact that officials have not released the names of the dead.
More than 8,000 structures in this town bordering the heartland states of Kansas and Oklahoma were damaged or destroyed when the twister came roaring through with just a 24 minute warning.
In yet another tragedy, more twisters hit Oklahoma late on Tuesday, killing at least eight people.
“We’ve got pretty extensive damage across the state,” emergency management director for Canadian County Jerry Smith said.
US President Barack Obama, on a visit to London, again sent his condolences to the people of Missouri, ahead of a visit to the area on Sunday.
“We have been battered by some storms. Not just this week, but over the last several months. The largest death toll and devastation we have ever seen from tornadoes in the United States of America,” he said.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced plans for a community memorial service on Sunday as he vowed to do everything possible to help residents recover and rebuild.