KANSAS CITY, Mo. —After 10 days of searching for the missing and trying to identify those killed in the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Mo., authorities said Wednesday they've accounted for everyone.
They've also confirmed 134 deaths, but caution that the toll could still rise because several people remain hospitalized in critical condition.
In an emotional news conference in Joplin, Gov. Jay Nixon said that everyone reported missing had been located and all of the deceased had been identified. After that news, many broke into applause.
"A huge weight of uncertainty has been lifted from the shoulders of this community," Nixon told the Kansas City Star on Wednesday evening. "We were glad to help bring closure on this section of what's going to be a very long battle to restore Joplin."
A week ago, Nixon directed the Missouri Highway Patrol to focus on locating everyone who couldn't be accounted for, a list that initially was as high as 1,300. Since then, troopers and civilians with the patrol have worked round the clock.
Nixon praised the highway patrol, saying troopers remained dedicated as the days went on. The main goal for 60 troopers and civilians, authorities said, was to bring peace and closure to families of missing or deceased loved ones.
On Wednesday, crews began removing curbside debris in the first phase of two phases of cleanup.
No one knows how long both phases will take. City officials on Wednesday advised residents and volunteers helping with the effort to wear face masks because of dust from the debris.
"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 Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm.
The EF5 tornado, which tore through Joplin on May 22, destroyed 30 percent of the town. For days after, people posted names of missing people on the Internet, called in to radio shows and asked authorities to help find their loved ones.