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Tornado That Ripped Through Jefferson City, Missouri, Rated EF3; Nearly 2 Dozen Injured
The National Weather Service says that the tornado that ripped through Jefferson, Missouri, late Wednesday night was at least a powerful EF3 twister with maximum wind speeds of 160 mph.
The tornado tore a 19-mile path through the heart of the state's capital, tossing cars like toys, destroying homes and businesses and injuring nearly two dozen people.
"It’s just a war zone," Eric Cunningham told CNN. "There’s a school up on the hill that has major roof damage. Power lines snapped in half. Light poles snapped at the base; just tossed like toys. ... Trees were just completely stripped. It doesn't even look like they had any leaves or bark on them. They are just stripped clean. ... Streets were completely blocked with bricks and trees and power lines being down. Really bad. Really a war zone right now."
Drone video showed roofs ripped off several large buildings in an apartment complex just off Ellis Boulevard at Highway 54. Bedrooms and living rooms were open to the rain that started to fall Thursday. In other buildings, only piles of lumber and chunks of broken drywall remained.
The tornado struck Jefferson City at 11:43 p.m. CDT and prompted a rare tornado emergency. Debris from the "wedge" tornado was lofted up to 13,000 feet, according to radar estimates, and may have been falling out northeast of the city.
Before Wednesday's tornado, the strongest tornadoes to hit Cole County were a pair of F2 tornadoes on Oct. 3, 1986 and May 12, 1980, according to NOAA's Storm Events Database. The last tornado to hit the county was an EF1 on May 19, 2017.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Danny Clayton was one of 75 guests at the Best Western Hotel in Jefferson City when the tornado hit. He woke up when the power went out and the sirens were already blaring.
“It wasn’t but a few seconds later and the whole building started trembling and shaking,” Clayton said in an interview with meteorologist Mike Seidel of The Weather Channel. “It just felt like an earthquake.
“It was a straight rumble. If you can just imagine putting your head in a box and just trembling and shaking as fast as possible … it was just violent.”
A tractor-trailer truck was blown over outside his room, and he said two people were taken to the hospital with cuts from broken glass.
“It was very fast. Once it settled down I was able to get out of my room and there was glass everywhere, people screaming. You see blood in the hallways from the ladies that got cut. Just a lot of confusion, you know. But they were able to get the ambulances here soon enough and they got them out of here.”
He said it was a “surreal feeling when you experience something like that and you come out of it OK.”
Kyla Foster, another guest at the Best Western, was woken by sounds in the hallway.
Then she heard the sirens.
“I scrambled to get dressed," Foster told The Weather Channel.
“I ran for the door and there was a woman screaming outside, women screaming, outside the door and I was afraid to open the door because I didn’t know if the tornado was on the other side or what was there. So I turned around and I ran into the bathroom, into the bathtub, until the screaming stopped. Then I went to the door and opened it up and just saw total chaos, total mess.”
Her car was pushed across the parking lot by the semi and totaled. Foster is from California and said she is used to earthquakes, but had never experienced a tornado before.
“The rumbling, the roaring, the screaming is what’s going to last for a while.”
No deaths were reported in Jefferson City, which is home to more than 40,000 residents, but the tornado was part of a multi-day severe weather outbreak in the Plains and Midwest that killed at least eight people and caused extensive flooding.
Three of those deaths occurred Wednesday evening when a tornado struck near Golden City, Missouri, about 30 miles northeast of Joplin, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
Kenneth Harris, 86, and his wife, 83-year-old Opal Harris, were found dead about 200 yards from their home, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said, according to KOLR. Betty Berg, 56, also was killed in the storm and her husband, Mark Berg, 56, suffered serious injuries, KOLR reported.
In addition to three tornado deaths Wednesday in Golden City, Missouri, five deaths were confirmed on Tuesday. They included two woman who drove around barricades on flooded streets in Oklahoma; a 74-year-old woman who died as a result of her home being hit by a reported tornado in Adair, Iowa; and two deaths attributed to a car accident in heavy rain near Springfield, Missouri.
There were 39 tornadoes reported in a 24-hour period from Wednesday into Thursday morning. A total of 193 tornadoes were reported since last Friday.
The current siege of severe thunderstorms and flooding rain will continue in parts of the storm-weary Plains and Midwest through at least early next week, including the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The Ohio Valley and Northeast may join the severe weather threat this weekend.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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