JOPLIN — The death toll from the massive tornado that devastated Joplin reached 132 Friday, a city spokeswoman said, while officials worked to whittle down the list of people missing and unaccounted for since the storm.
Joplin city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot confirmed the new figure to The Associated Press but did not elaborate. The number was announced just before government officials were expected to update the public on efforts to determine the status of 232 people believed to be missing in the storm's wake. Later, officials announced the number of missing is 156.
Authorities had said they believed many of the missing were alive and safe but simply hadn't been in touch with friends and family, in part because cell phone service has been spotty.
Numerous people on the state's missing list released Thursday were discovered to be safe and unharmed the same day. But officials cautioned that they believed many on that list may have been killed in the storm.
Sunday's savage storm was the nation's deadliest single tornado in more than 60 years. More than 900 people were injured.
There have been bright spots amid the grim statistics, however. After the state released its list of the missing, several people on it were found alive and well, even if their homes had been destroyed.
The first person on the original list, Sally Adams, was found sitting outside her wrecked house holding her cat. Another couple were found at a hotel used by visiting journalists.
Identification of the deceased has been slow because officials have taken extra precautions since a woman misidentified one victim as her son in the chaotic hours after the tornado hit. A federal forensics team of 50 to 75 disaster mortuary specialists has been at work in six refrigerated trucks, collecting DNA samples for testing, taking fingerprints and looking for tattoos, body piercings, moles and other distinctive marks.