Tornado Hits, Closes Lambert Airport Near St. Louis

A major storm hit the St. Louis area yesterday, leaving homes destroyed and Labmert Airport closed.  The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado strike, resulting in shattered windows and a large section of the main terminal’s roof being torn off.

Crews worked all night on the major airport, continuing their efforts on Saturday.  The broken windows are being boarding up, and police are left to stand guard at spots where repairs have yet to be completed.

Roofs have been torn off homes, cars are overturned and several houses are simply flattened.  An Associated Press photographer, Jeff Roberson, flew over the Bridgeton and Maryland Heights areas.  “I would say it looked like a bomb went off.”

At a press conference earlier today, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge stated the airport could reopen at 70% capacity on Sunday.   That figure is contingent on restoring power and the flexibility of airlines in adjusting terminal assignments.

“We will not have departures out of here today, but we expect a good number of departures out of here tomorrow,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.  They hope the airport will be back to full capacity next week.

“This effort is going to take the cooperation and involvement of people of all levels of government,” Slay said. “We are confident we will make this airport as good as it’s ever been in terms of its condition.”

“When you look at the devastation around, it really is a miracle there were no fatalities,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.  There were only five people with injuries taken to hospitals.  All were treated and released.

Dianna Merrill, a 43-year-old mail carrier from St. Louis, was looking out a window in anticipation of her weather-delayed plane when the tornado hit.  “Glass was blowing everywhere.  The ceiling was falling.  The glass was hitting us in the face.  Hail and rain were coming in.  The wind was blowing debris all over the place,” she said.

“It was like being in a horror movie.  Grown men were crying.  It was horrible.”  Merrill also stated she felt lucky to be alive.  She credited airport workers for being expedient in moving travelers to stairwells and bathrooms and out of harm’s way.

Hundreds of passengers were delayed, and a dozen stranded passengers stayed in the terminal Friday night, Hamm-Niebruegge said.  If not for the timing, injuries could have been much worse.

“As late as it was in the evening, there was only a handful of flights coming in,” she said.

While Southwest canceled all St. Louis flights through at least 4 p.m. on Saturday, American won’t fly out of St. Louis until Monday morning at the earliest.  American operates out of the main terminal.

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