A powerful tornado, part of a band of storms that raged through the Plains and the Midwest, struck the Missouri capital late Wednesday, destroying buildings, felling power poles and sparking a vast emergency response as officials faced reports of people trapped in rubble.
The full scale of the devastation was not immediately clear, but the Missouri Department of Public Safety said the damage in part of Jefferson City, the capital, was “extensive.” Shelters opened, and state troopers and local emergency officials were going door-to-door, searching for survivors on Thursday morning.
At least three people were killed in a separate tornado in Golden City, which is about a two-hour drive southeast of the Kansas City area. In addition to Jefferson City and Golden City, the governor’s office said the hardest-hit areas appeared to be Carl Junction and Eldon.
“We are very thankful we didn’t have any more fatalities than we did,” Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said Thursday. “But three is too many.”
Mr. Parson, who spoke to reporters in Jefferson City, warned that the death toll could rise.
“We’re just getting to daylight,” he said.
The tornadoes in Missouri were among the most violent bursts of severe weather in a week when forecasters feared life-threatening storms. The Storm Prediction Center, a government office in Norman, Okla., had issued a “high” risk outlook for Oklahoma and Texas on Monday, an unusually grave indication of worrisome conditions.
Although some tornadoes formed on Monday, the worst of the week’s weather seemed to be unleashed Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday.
“Violent tornado confirmed — shelter now!” the National Weather Service office in St. Louis warned residents of Jefferson City, which has about 40,000 residents, shortly before midnight.
Less than two hours later, Mr. Parson wrote on Twitter, “We’re doing okay but praying for those that were caught in damage, some are still trapped — local emergency crews are on site and assisting.”
In Jefferson City, officials said that roughly three square miles had been especially hard-hit and that flying trees and debris were responsible for some of the at least 20 injuries that had been tallied in the capital.
“This is an ongoing situation,” Lt. David Williams of the Jefferson City police said Thursday morning. “We realize there is a lot of work that we still have to do. Daybreak is just now starting to happen.”
Missouri Task Force One, an elite search-and-rescue unit that can be summoned for the nation’s worst natural disasters, was at work in Jefferson City on Thursday morning, and the Fire Department said all of its firefighters had been “called back.”
“Please Pray for our Citizens,” the department wrote on Facebook.
The National Weather Service warned of heavy rainfall over central Missouri. A flash-flood watch was in effect, and parts of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were flooding, it said.
The storms on Wednesday hit on the eighth anniversary of a tornado that killed 161 people in Joplin, Mo., one of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in American history.
Austin Ramzy and Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting.
by Alan Blinder (2019, May 23) The New York Times