UPDATE: 134 now confirmed dead after Joplin tornado

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | 5:01 p.m. CDT; updated 9:03 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 2, 2011

JOPLIN — Everyone reported missing since last week's massive tornado in Joplin has been accounted for, state officials said Wednesday, and at least 134 people have been confirmed killed.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety said the confirmed death toll of 134 includes 124 people who had been on the unaccounted-for list, seven people who were taken immediately to funeral homes after the storm and three people who have since died in the hospital from their injuries.

More than 500 commercial properties and more than 8,000 homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed in the tornado.

Officials said the final 10 people on the list were tracked down by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which has led the effort to find the 268 people listed as missing after the May 22 tornado.

The announcement came as crews began the long task of removing millions of cubic yards of debris from the damage zone. City and federal officials warned Wednesday that people should take precautions to avoid dust and other airborne particulates that could contain hazardous material.

The Army National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Missouri National Guard and other agencies are working on debris removal that will raise potentially hazardous dust as bulldozers move piles of rubble and streets are swept.

The Environmental Protection Agency has provided masks and safety instructions to search and rescue crews, contractors, volunteers and residents.

"If it's dusty enough that you can visibly see dust coming at you, you should wear the masks that have been provided as a precaution," said Eric Nold, an on-scene coordinator for the EPA.

The EPA has been monitoring air quality in Joplin at six ground-level sites in the debris field since Saturday to check for asbestos and other potentially harmful particulates that could be floating in the air.

The city said temporary, roving testing stations will be installed at debris-collection sites. 

While dust and particulate testing shows immediate results, testing for asbestos takes about two days to process. So far, tests show particulate levels are normal, city officials said. No asbestos has been found.

 "We have no reason to believe that dust or particulates are a health hazard at this point, but we simply want people to be aware and take precautions as they go about their work," said Sam Anselm, Joplin's assistant city manager.

FEMA said more than 7,000 Joplin-area residents have registered for assistance since the EF-5 tornado that packed winds of more than 200 mph.


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