May 23, 2013
St. Louis works to reopen airport after twisters
Crews worked to get St. Louis' tornado-battered airport ready to reopen on Sunday after it was hit by a roaring storm that also destroyed houses, tossed cars and knocked out power.
Several injuries were reported but no fatalities.
Lambert Airport had to be shut down after the storm hit at 8:30 p.m. CDT/0130 on Friday with winds over 100 mph/160 kph and an American Airlines jet on the ground was damaged, airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said.
Several people were injured by flying glass on Friday night when the main terminal was hit at the airport, which is located in the city limits about 5 miles northwest of downtown.
There were no reports of injuries or deaths despite the widespread destruction in a heavily populated area about three-quarters of a mile west of the airport.
Flights from Lambert were being diverted to Kansas City. The airport remained closed but officials said they hopeful the airport could reopen on Sunday.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay told reporters work was progressing at the airport.
"We are working toward a goal of 70 percent capacity by tomorrow and 100 percent capacity by the middle of the week," he said.
Governor Jay Nixon spoke to President Barack Obama, who pledged his full support and assistance with recovery efforts, according to a statement from the governor's office.
Red Cross readiness and response director Mary Anderson said: "We can't make an estimate on how many homes have been damaged. I've heard from 500 upward to 2,500 but these are coming from all over and we just don't know yet."
She said while hundreds of people have been displaced: "These are larger houses and I imagine these are families who have somewhere to go, friends, relatives, hotels."
The National Weather Service confirmed on Saturday that it was a tornado that hit the airport. Meteorologist Scott Truett said observers there had spotted a funnel cloud and confirmed the report. "This was a very intense storm," he said.
"Weather concerns are continuing, especially south of St. Louis," Truett said, adding that heavy rain was possible in the area.
Pictures from television helicopters showed housing subdivisions leveled by the Good Friday storm. Roofs were blown off, trees smashed into houses, cars flipped over, semitrailers blown off interstate highways and windows shattered.
"There are a number of things we can be thankful for," Hamm-Niebruegge said. "It's a miracle there were no fatalities."
She said five people were injured at the airport but had already been released from hospitals.
Workers and cranes could be seen cleaning debris from the roof of one airport terminal building, where the storm had left gaping holes. One-thousand people were involved in the effort to get the airport operating again, officials said.
"I was stunned last night when I saw the damage. Today I was stunned by how much has been cleaned up," Slay said.
Power lines were reported down across St. Louis County with vehicles overturned on area roads, making it harder for emergency personnel to get through and leaving thousands without power Friday night, according to utility Ameren Missouri.
It reported power still out to 37,000 people.
In a nearby neighborhood of large homes with big yards and swimming pools, television reports showed a man wandering in the rubble holding up pictures and pieces of broken furniture in a house nearly destroyed by the winds.
It appeared dozens of homes, built within the last 15 to 20 years, had been destroyed.
At the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in the Maryland Heights neighborhood about 2 miles from the airport, Good Friday services were under way when the storm blew through.
No one was hurt but one woman who did not identify herself said, "I heard the train sound they all talk about and the air pressure dropped. then it hit."
Over the years storms and tornadoes have claimed hundreds of lives in the St. Louis region, one of the most active urban areas for tornadoes in the United States.
The worst tornado in St. Louis history killed 137 people and left 550 injured in 1927 and was the second costliest in US history, according to the St. Louis Public Library.
During a storm in 1973, an Ozark Airlines flight crashed into the University of Missouri-St. Louis while trying to land at Lambert Airport during a severe storm, killing 38 people.