Going home, following a tornado.
On May 22, an EF3 tornado ripped a three-mile path through Missouri’s capital city.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service, who responded to Jefferson City by the following morning, said a tornado ranked as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, can have maximum wind speeds of 160 mph. In a statement, the National Weather Service said that less than 5 percent of tornados rank an EF3 or higher. This tornado's funnel was wider than its height, and sent debris as high as 13,000 feet into the air.
The storm tore through three miles of the city, after having caused damage in Eldon, and south of town before reaching the southern city limits. The worst hit areas were on Christy Drive and Ellis Boulevard, where a car dealership sustained massive damage. The storm left four rows of vehicles piled on top of one another. A Sonic and Break Time received heavy damage, while a bank next door only received moderate damage; a local cheer gym - Capitol City Cheer lost an exterior wall. The Hawthorne Park Apartments, located at 505 Ellis Blvd., received the worst damage. It is estimated that as many as 100 people are now without homes from that one location.
The east side of town, surrounding Capitol Avenue, East High Street and East McCarty Street received extensive damage. The Simonsen Ninth Grade Center roof was partially removed and windows were blown out causing destruction to the interior of the building. Historic homes along Capitol Avenue were destroyed in the midst of revitalization of the area. Numerous homes were destroyed or suffered massive damage.
While there are more than 25 people who are reported to have received injuries, there were no deaths due to the storm.
These homes, across the city, are the homes of my friends and family. The businesses are owned by residents who support the local schools, churches and nonprofit organizations. This storm ripped through my hometown.
Journalists are supposed to be fair and impartial; keeping your emotions out of the story. I knew Thursday I couldn’t do that. It was a trip I did not want to make, but I knew I couldn’t not go. I lived in Jefferson City for most of my life, just having moved a few months ago. It’s a big news story, sure, but Jefferson City is the place where my heart calls home. So I drove the two hours home, with the back of my SUV loaded with bottles of water, clothing and my heart filled with anxiety. As I pulled into town, I parked my car and started walking, I knew that I couldn’t just go and offer my support I knew I had to write the story.
The storm that struck at about 11:40 p.m., on Wednesday night, May 22, left parts of the town of 42,000 people layered with the debris and almost unrecognizable. Early estimates listed hundreds of people being displaced and thousands without power. Dozens of people were reported injured but there were no fatalities. Trees were uprooted, glass was shattered, street signs were bent like plastic straws. The early scanner reports, I listened to, spoke of numerous gas leaks, trapped residents, power lines across roads. Ameren UE officials would later report that more than 200 utility poles were damaged and countless lines disrupted.
Parts of Jefferson city looked like a war zone.
The time I spent in Jefferson City, I did things I had never done in my own hometown. I drove by Simonsen and felt my heart ache. I walked down Capitol Avenue and instead of admiring the beautiful homes I stood in all of the destruction of them. I turned onto Cherry Street and thanked God, that a dear friend who I truly miss no longer lived there. I ached for the people who did. I walked down the middle of Ellis Boulevard, hearing glass crunch under my feet, the smell of oil thick in the air. I stopped in an apartment building parking lot, in the middle of the day and heard nothing but a few distant sirens, and wondered how, but by a miracle, everyone survived. I looked through the viewfinder of a camera to hold back the tears. I stared at places I can see when I close my eyes and didn’t recognize them. That day, I cried for my hometown, for the numerous people whose lives changed that Wednesday night.
I also saw people helping people. Selfless giving. Encouragement amidst devastating circumstances. I saw Jeff City, the people who make up the town, not the buildings and knew that in time, this place will come back better and stronger than ever. During the revelation of damages, in the heart wrenching aftermath of mother nature, I realized that - the heart of the people not the beauty of the buildings - is the place I’m proud to have called home.