Most Crossed Off 'Missing' List

By Randy Ellis and Steve Lackmeyer Modified: May 3, 2009 at 2:36 pm •  Published: May 7, 1999
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Oklahoma's tornado death toll climbed to 41 Thursday after three more people died at Oklahoma City area hospitals. Fewer questions remained as dozens of "missing" individuals were found safe.

Authorities say 742 people with storm-related injuries were treated at hospitals across the state. At least 78 remain hospitalized Thursday night, including eight in critical condition.

There were no new reports of survivors or bodies being found amidst the debris.

President Clinton issued major disaster declarations Thursday for 11 Oklahoma counties, making those areas eligible for a variety of programs to help people and communities recover and rebuild. The counties are Caddo, Cleveland, Creek, Grady, McClain, Oklahoma, Kingfisher, Lincoln, Logan, Pottawatomie and Tulsa.

Gov. Frank Keating announced Thursday that he was requesting five additional counties be declared eligible for disaster assistance: Canadian, Craig, Le Flore, Noble and Ottawa.

All but six of the 100 or so individuals on Wednesday's missing persons list have been located. Most are "alive and well."

Authorities said five special search squads were established Thursday and dispatched to four or five sites where officials believed the missing people would most likely be found if they failed to escape the killer tornado. Officials declined to disclose specific locations but said they were in Bridge Creek, Midwest City, Del City, Moore and south Oklahoma City.

"Once we were able to identify ... (those) legitimately missing, we simply found out where those people lived or where they were ... and those are the areas that will be searched," Jordan said. "I'm delighted at how this missing persons process has worked. I think by morning it will be even more narrowed, and maybe we'll be at the end of this process."

Along with the good news, there was some despair.

The medical examiner's office announced one of the bodies in the morgue has been identified as 3-week-old Asheton B. Darnell of Bridge Creek.

Sadly, the announcement came at about the same time the baby's father, Deon Darnell, went on national television from his hospital bed to show photos of his baby and plead for information from anyone with knowledge about the fate of the boy who was sucked from his mother's arms.

Asheton was one of at least three on Wednesday's missing-persons list later determined to have died in the storm or its aftermath.

The medical examiner's office said it has identified all 41 bodies sent to the morgue. The names of all but one have been released by either the examiner or state funeral homes. The dead include three children.

The one victim not yet named could be Del City resident Guadalupe Urice, her husband said. Her husband, Julio Avila was rummaging through the rubble of his Del Aire neighborhood home Thursday -- like many of his neighbors.

Avila returned to his home about an hour after Monday's tornado to find a pile of debris and neighbors who told him his wife had been killed. He has taken her picture to area funeral homes and dental records to the medical examiner but continues to wait for official word.

Meanwhile, Bridge Creek firefighters and National Guardsmen spent several hours Thursday digging through debris and wading in a small pond in search of a woman thought missing since Monday night.

Dogs trained to find human remains alerted to the pond Wednesday and Thursday, but as dinnertime arrived Thursday, the search was called off. The woman had been found Monday night, but the state medical examiner's office identified her by a different last name.

At least 11 people were killed in the Bridge Creek community.

Preliminary damage estimates from Oklahoma County and city emergency management officials are that more than 9,000 homes in the metropolitan area are destroyed or damaged. Those estimates include Oklahoma City, Del City, Midwest City, Moore and Choctaw.

Moore accounts for more than half that damage.

In 10 other counties, more than 1,500 homes and mobile homes are destroyed or damaged.

The Southwestern Insurance Information Institute, a group of some of the state's largest property and casualty insurers, continues to estimate insured metro area losses at $500 million while cautioning that the figure could rise.


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