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FAMILIES HUDDLE, PRAY FOR WORD ON LOVED ONES

Hour after agonizing hour, families huddled Thursday in the First Christian Church, waiting for word of their loved ones.

Any word.But the critical 24-hour period since the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building Wednesday morning had passed. Hope of finding survivors in the wreckage of the federal building was dimming.

Still, people waited at the near-downtown church, set up as a clearinghouse for information on the missing.

Throughout the day, tearful relatives wandered in and out. Some stopped to talk to reporters. Some nervously held up pictures of their missing loved ones.

John Cole stood, shaking, holding two pictures.

He was beginning to accept the unacceptable. His two foster children, Elishah Coverdeal, 2, and Aaron Coverdeal, 5, were still missing. They had not been seen since they were dropped off at the day-care center in the federal building Wednesday morning.

Cole, 44, a state employee, had been out of town for a two-day conference when the explosion occurred and immediately rushed back to Oklahoma City. Since then, he has been recalling precious moments with the two children.

"It really starts my day to wake him (Elishah) up," Cole said. "It was as if they were my biological kids. I couldn't love them more."

At least 300 people waited at the church Thursday. They filled out forms to help the medical examiner's office identify bodies. They described the physical appearance and clothing of the missing and listed the names of victims' dentists and doctors.

Counselors and clergy made the rounds, comforting those who would accept it. Hundreds of volunteers brought food.

But nothing was of much comfort to the waiting people.

"We are just trying to get answers. We are just praying," said Carla Garrett, whose 1-year-old nephew, Tevin, had been dropped off at the day-care center by his mother Wednesday morning. "We are praying they will find Tevin and pull him out."

Garrett last saw her nephew about two weeks ago. She described him as "bright, fun and a real happy little boy."

The boy's family called the morgue and gave a description of what he was wearing - a blue jogging suit and Nike athletic shoes. So far, the morgue has no body fitting that description.

Relatives of Rick Tomlin, who worked in the federal building, came from Missouri to set up a vigil in the church. Tomlin had been talking to his wife on the phone when the blast occurred. The line went dead.

His job with the Department of Transportation kept Tomlin on the road much of the time. But not on Wednesday.

"This happened to be the one time he was in the office," said his son, Richard, who has not seen his dad for a month. "He's probably the greatest guy . . . ." Tears prevented him from finishing the sentence.

As time passed, people inside the church became more tense.

"It's terrible. We don't know if he's alive or what," Victor Eaves said of his 8-month-old nephew, Tyler, who is thought to be somewhere in the rubble. "We keep visiting hospitals and checking lists.

"My nephew's mother has hope he'll be found," Eaves said. "I'm not sure. It doesn't look good."