Joplin: Rescuers and anguished families were still searching for hundreds of missing people on Thursday; four days after a tornado battered this US town, killing at least 125 people.
So far painstaking searches through the devastated homes of Joplin rescuers found no one in the rubble on Wednesday -- dead or alive.
"We`re disappointed, but we`re also relieved that we didn`t find people in there," fire chief Mitch Randles said.
As of Wednesday, nearly 1,500 people were still reported missing. Officials expressed hope that many had simply failed to check in with friends or family while warning that the death toll was likely to rise.
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 four miles (six kilometers) long and three quarters of a mile (over a kilometer) wide of this city of 50,000.
"It is a devastating scene," said Missouri public safety communications chief Mike O`Connell.
"I have seen a lot of tornado damage in the past, but never such a wide path, such a large path."
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 Facebook for the baby boy ripped from his mother`s arms by the powerful winds, and late Wednesday there were conflicting reports his body had been identified.
"No, he has not been found," his grandmother, Milissa Burns, posted sadly on the site Wednesday. "I`m following all leads both good and bad... I just pray we all can work together on this. God bless."
Teenager Lantz Hare, who was out driving with friends when the massive funnel cloud struck with winds of up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) an hour, was also missing.
"He was on the phone with another friend, we believe, when the tornado actually hit the car. His friend Ryan says he could literally hear the swoosh came through and the phone went dead," his mother Michelle told a news channel.
The American Red Cross has set up a website for people to list the names of the missing, but they have had little success so far reuniting families.
"It`s been very difficult. We`d like to see a much greater number of families reunited," said Bill Benson, who is handling the Red Cross`s social media and online outreach.
"We have a constant influx of folks coming in desperate, asking can you help me -- we just don`t know where to go."
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.
"I keep checking my cell phone -- I`m waiting for a text saying she`s OK," Marshall said.
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 Tuesday, killing at least eight people.
Joplin avoided a second hit by tornado, but the violent storm system rattled already shaky nerves as residents were forced to seek shelter from strong winds and blinding rain.
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 Sunday as he vowed to do everything possible to help residents recover and rebuild.
"We`re going to battle together and come back as a stronger community," he told reporters.