UPDATE: Officials in Joplin Friday announced the number of unaccounted for people in Joplin has gone from 232 to 105, while the storm's death toll has risen to 139 people.
JOPLIN, Missouri - Officials announced Thursday the state of Missouri is taking over the listing of the names of the dead and unaccounted for after last weekend’s tornado in Joplin.
The death toll rose Thursday to 126 people, not all of them identified, and officials have estimated more than 900 were injured.
At a news conference from inside Missouri Southern State University, authorities announced 232 names had been formally filed with the state as missing. Missouri officials 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.
The youngest on the list included Nevea Merritt, reported as 2 or 3 years old. Four other individuals with the last name Merritt, all from the same address in the 3100 block of South Day Road in Joplin, were also on the list. Two of them were children, ages 8 and 5.
In all, at least 15 children were listed as missing. Many on the list had no ages listed.
The oldest person on the list was Clovis Steele, 90 years old, with a listed residence in the 2300 block of Kentucky in Joplin.
Some initial estimates of those considered missing ran as high as 1,500, more than six times the actual number. The problem, officials said, is there have been several different lists and no cross-checking has been done.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Department of Public Safety to take over the operations to create a centralized list.
DPS Deputy Director Andrea Spillars said they have been working with shelters, local officials and cell phone companies to narrow down the various lists.
“Following the Governor’s orders, we have assigned additional investigators to take and investigate official reports, to field calls, and to help locate each and every one of these individuals," Spillars said. "Just as all necessary resources were devoted to search and rescue efforts in the tornado’s immediate aftermath, this critical mission will have all the personnel necessary to get information to anxious families, friends and loved ones. Locating these unaccounted-for individuals is a critical priority for our department.”
There are individuals on that list that are confirmed deceased and Spillars said DPS will be working to notify family members. Many others are still considered unaccounted for, she said.
One example of the potential overlap: 12 residents of the Greenbriar Nursing Home are listed as missing. But nursing home administrators reported earlier that 11 people died in the tornado; only one resident was known missing.
Among those still missing is 16-year-old Lantz Hare. He was driving with a friend who said the two tried to take cover in the parking lot of a grocery store. The tornado shattered the windows and crumpled the car, and Lantz's father, Mike Hare, found his son's backpack in the wreckage.
Mike Hare has called hospitals from Dallas to Kansas City and taken dozens of calls offering advice, prayers and hopeful tips. None of the calls came from Lantz or offered any hope he might still be alive. But Hare said he'll keep searching until he finds his son.
"We know he's hurt somewhere," Hare said Wednesday, his voice breaking. "We just can't sit and keep calling. You've got to be moving."
Jose Alvarez, a professor at Missouri Southern State University. is also on the missing list . His family is desperate to find him.
If you know the whereabouts of anyone on the list, you are urged to call (417) 895-6868. If you cannot locate a loved one who is NOT on the list, call (417) 659-5464.
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