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Frustrated Joplin families continue grim search

Officials in Joplin, Mo., are expected to hand out a revised list of people missing from last Sunday's tornado with a dramatically lower number.

There are now 232 people officially missing from the storm that ravaged the city earlier this week, killing at least 132.

Some families are still searching for loved ones, while others are frustrated with the lack of information about who is dead and who is alive.

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CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy spoke with siblings desperately trying to find Dee Ann Hayward - their mom - who went to pick up pizza for her son Caleb's graduation party Sunday. She never came home.

"We've been looking for her ever since," said her son, Robert, handing out fliers with her photo.

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Michelle Hare's search for her 16-year-old son Lantz ended on Thursday. Joplin police showed up to tell her his body had been identified.

"It is in some way a comfort to know he's in a better place and that we don't have to wonder if he's out there needing us," said Hare.

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Many families are frustrated and confused. They feel the city has been slow to identify the dead, leaving them perhaps searching and hoping in vain.

Families with missing loved ones aren't allowed to go to the makeshift morgue to identify the bodies. Instead, they have to submit DNA samples or dental records, and wait for a match."

"We have to be 100% accurate," said Don Bloom of the Federal Disaster Mortuary Response Team. "That is why the process on our side takes a little bit longer."

It could take two more weeks before some are identified.

The missing persons list posted Thursday includes many who are already known to be dead - or alive and well.

With erratic cell phone service throughout Joplin and travel hindered by damaged cars and blocked streets, many residents have turned to local radio stations as a hub of information, sifting through around-the-clock reports of missing family members.

The Zimmer Radio Group, which operates seven radio stations in Joplin, abandoned its various music formats for 24-hour tornado coverage starting late Sunday afternoon. Newscaster Chad Elliot, whose home was destroyed, slept in his office when he wasn't on the air.

Calls flowed in - hundreds of them - from people looking for displaced loved ones, or calling in to say they were OK. By Wednesday, reports of missing friends and relatives were decreasing, replaced by updates of successful, tearful reunions.

"Folks wondering about Larry Allen, who was living near the Stained Glass Theater, he is fine," an announcer said Wednesday afternoon. "He's staying with friends."

Another listener reported, "I want everyone to know that Alice DuBois, 94 years old, is alive and well. We hadn't heard from her until yesterday afternoon. We thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers."

Pleas were rampant on social networks.

"This little boy was taken to Memorial Hall," one poster wrote next to a picture posted on KZRG-FM's Facebook page. "His name is David and all he know's is that his mother's name is Crystal and his brother is Zachary. He was airlifted to Tulsa. Please help find his mom."

Other cries for help were low-tech: A tornado-battered pickup truck was spray-painted with the message, "Looking 4 Zachary Williams Age 12," along with a phone number.

At the Red Cross shelter at Missouri Southern State University, a steady stream of people visited a table where Bill Benson took down the names of people for a "safe and well" database. Some people entered their names; others hoped to find the name of their loved ones in the database.

Benson has seen parents looking for missing children, saying "we had one where a 17-month-old infant was lost." He contacted police and had not heard if the child was found. But more people have come to Benson searching for seniors - more than 100 were listed as missing Wednesday.

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At Freeman Hospital, Karen Mitchell waited Wednesday hoping for word on her missing son, Robert Bateson, or her grandson, Abe Khoury. Khoury was found and taken to Freeman, where he was in critical condition. But Mitchell and her family continued to search for Bateson.

When she arrived in Joplin on Tuesday, Mitchell walked through the wreckage of her son's apartment building. She recognized his mattress sitting in a pile. Her family continued to post Bateson's information online. She prayed for a miracle.

"I am waiting on God to tell me where he's at," she said. "God is going to take him to me."

Kathy Watson, a marketing team member and front desk volunteer at Freeman, said the hospital was deluged with calls and visits from searchers, sometimes in vain.

"You want to be able to say, `Not only do we have your loved one, but they're fine,' but you can't say that," Watson said.

There is so much sadness here, sais CBS' Ben Tracy, but in this tattered and torn landscape there are also neighbors reunited, who have not lost their sense of humor: "I think I may have some of your undies in my yard' said one woman. "Oh, you keep 'em, sweetheart!"

Tracy said, "The word resilient is often thrown around a lot when we cover disasters, but that we have seen a lot of it here in Joplin: People able to laugh despite loss, and determined to overcome all this."

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