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St. Louis airport closed after tornado storms, homes flattened

By Reuters
Saturday, April 23, 2011 10:56 EDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo (Reuters) – Some St. Louis area residents on Saturday were shuffling slowly through the rubble left by a roaring storm that spawned tornadoes Friday night which tore through the west side of the city.

They forced closure of Lambert Airport, in the city limits but about five miles northwest of downtown, and left dozens of homes destroyed.

Pictures from television helicopters showed subdivisions leveled by the Good Friday storm that hit the city early at 8:30 p.m. CDT.

Roofs were blown off, trees smashed into houses, cars were flipped over, semitrailers blown off Interstate highways, and windows shattered.

There were no reports of injuries in the residential areas, despite the wide swath of destruction in a heavily populated area about three-quarters of a mile west of the airport.

Four people were injured by flying glass at the airport when the main terminal was hit by what appeared to be a tornado.

“We’re assuming that (a tornado) is what it was,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Miller.

Flights from the city’s Lambert Airport were being diverted to Kansas City. The airport remained closed indefinitely on Saturday morning, with Monday expected to be the earliest it might open.

Workers and cranes were cleaning debris on Saturday from the roof of one terminal building, where the storm had left gaping holes.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said he was bringing “all hands on deck” to get the airport reopened. Rich Bradley, the city’s chief engineer, said crews would work 24 hours a day but predicted the airport might not reopen for days.

Nearby roads were clogged and damage was extensive at the facility.

Winds of over 100 mph were reported and a spotter at the airport reported a direct hit by a tornado.

In a nearby neighborhood of large homes with big yards and swimming pools, television pictures 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 two miles from the airport, Good Friday services were underway when the storm hit.

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.”

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 on Saturday.

The National Weather Service showed flood warnings in effect for much of Missouri on Saturday, including flash flood warnings in some areas.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

Reuters
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