Early warnings, good timing and common sense all helped prevent a
tragedy Friday night. But on Easter Sunday, many of those cleaning
up the mess also thanked a higher power.
"I don't know why God
decided to spare our lives, but I'm thankful for it," Joni Bellinger,
children's minister at hard-hit Ferguson Christian Church, said
Lambert Airport reopened for arriving flights Saturday night, and
departing flights began Sunday morning. Still, dozens of flights
have been canceled, the airport's Concourse C is still closed and
complete repairs could take up to two months.
The tornado peaked at an EF-4 level, second-highest on the
Enhanced Fujita scale, packing winds of up to 200 mph, National
Weather Service meteorologist Wes Browning said. It was the most
powerful twister in metropolitan St. Louis since 1967 -- and eerily,
it followed a path similar to that of the earlier tornado.
Entire subdivisions were destroyed. Cars were tossed about like
toys, roofs tossed hundreds of yards and 100-year-old trees sucked
out by the roots.
County officials said during a news conference Sunday that 2,700
buildings were damaged. Gov. Jay Nixon said Saturday that up to 100
were uninhabitable. The damage clearly will cost millions of dollars
to repair, but a more precise estimate was unavailable Sunday.
The twister destroyed two of the homes John Stein owns on a
street in the city of Berkeley, and damaged five others. "Everything
you'd find in a war zone except the bodies," Stein said.
Residents in nine communities and unincorporated parts of St.
Louis County were still sorting through the rubble Sunday. Ameren
Corp. had about 2,000 workers seeking to restore outages that
affected 47,000 homes and businesses immediately after the storm.
The utility said 18,300 were still without electricity on Sunday,
and it could be several days before all power is restored.
Yet the common refrain was: It could have been worse. Stuff was
destroyed, not lives.
The normally busy airport took a direct hit, with hundreds of
panes of glass shattering from the force of the wind. The shuttle
bus on the roof was among dozens of vehicles that were damaged.
But the airport had been quiet Friday night. Few planes on the
ground were filled with passengers, and those shook but didn't
topple. Just a couple of hundred passengers and workers were in
Concourse C, which took the brunt of the damage, airport director
Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said. Five people suffered minor injuries.
Residents praised the weather service for warning them about the
tornado more than a half-hour before it hit. Warning sirens blared
at the airport, where security officers and other workers herded
people to stairwells and bathrooms.
Residents also paid attention to the sirens, and local TV
stations switched from network programming to radar of the pending
disaster and stern warnings from meteorologists to seek refuge in
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"The bottom line is the 34-minute warning and the heeding of that
warning by the citizens has saved countless lives," Nixon said.
"The public did what we told them to do," the meteorologist said.
"Many came out of the basement without a scratch, and there was
nothing left" of their homes.
Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers believes divine intervention also
was at work. His own home had moderate damage, but several houses in
his neighborhood were obliterated. In many of them, mercifully, no
one was home when the twister hit. One family was out for dinner.
Another was away playing cards. Another was visiting relatives in
"The grace of God," Bowers said. "What else can I say?"
At Ferguson Christian Church, nearly three dozen people were
gathered on Good Friday to watch the movie "Passion of the Christ"
when the sirens began to blare. Pastor Stacy Garner paused the movie
and hurried everyone to the basement. They were out of harm's way as
the tornado imploded the sanctuary above them.
Like hundreds of residents in surrounding communities, church
members have been back trying to salvage what they could. Their
Easter Sunday services were at a college campus. They've had a lot
of help from neighbors and friends.
"It's not just our church, but people from all over the
neighborhood have come to help and clean up the mess and pick up the
pieces, and try to figure out what we're going to do from now on,"
said Bellinger, the children's minister.
By JIM SALTER]
Ed Donahue of The Associated Press in Washington
contributed to this report.
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