TORNADO DEATH TOLL IN JOPLIN, MISSOURI, RISES TO 139

The number of people killed by a massive tornado that struck the city of Joplin, Missouri, has risen to 139, officials say.

The toll, released by city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot, is an increase of seven from the previous total.

Also on Saturday, a list of 156 people missing dropped to 105 after more were accounted for.

President Barack Obama will visit Joplin on Sunday to take part in a memorial service.

Among the newly confirmed victims was teenager Will Norton, who was sucked from his father’s car as they drove home from his high school graduation, Ms Onstot said.

More than 600 volunteers and 50 dog teams are still scouring the shattered remains of homes and offices for survivors or victims.

“We’re going to be in a search and rescue mode until we remove the last piece of debris,” city manager Mark Rohr said.

Joplin police say they have made 17 arrests for looting.

The tornado, with winds of 200mph (322km/h), was one of the most destructive in US history. It injured more than 900 people and carved a swathe of destruction through the city.

Day of prayer

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared Sunday an official State Day of Prayer and Remembrance.

US and Missouri flags will fly at half-mast over all government buildings in the state throughout the day.

The memorial service will be held at the Taylor Performing Arts Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. Gov Nixon said in a statement: “During this day of prayer and this memorial service, I invite all Missourians to pause and remember their neighbours and draw upon the resources of their faith in support of their fellow Missourians.”

On Saturday the US National Weather Service said 2011 was already the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950, when precise figures were first kept.

The death toll so far this year stands at 520. The previous highest recorded death toll in a single year was 519 in 1953.

The first funeral of a confirmed victim from the Joplin tornado was held on Friday.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at a church in Galena, just over the Kansas border, for the funeral of Adam Dewayne Darnaby, 27.

So far at least 19 bodies have been released to families, but many are yet to be formally identified.

Officials say that, wherever possible, they prefer to base identifications on DNA, medical records and also distinguishing features such as tattoos and piercings.

However, some families of victims say the delays are adding to their distress.

(Article from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13586070 )

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