UPDATED at 6 p.m. Thursday with injured man in Hazelwood, death of Ameren employee and corrected tornado wind-speed estimate.
HAZELWOOD • An Ameren utility worker was electrocuted late this morning as he worked to repair damage from Wednesday night's storm.
A St. Ann police spokesman said the man was electrocuted about 11 a.m. while on a utility pole at San Jose Lane and the 10000 block of St. Charles Rock Road, across from the police station. Other Ameren workers attempted to rescue the stricken man, who was taken to DePaul Health Center and pronounced dead, the spokesman said.
His identity was not released.
Daylight revealed the extent of damage and cleanup began Thursday morning after the storm, which plunged tens of thousands in the dark and brought trees and power lines down onto homes and cars. By afternoon, inspectors had counted 80 destroyed or damaged apartments in two Hazelwood complexes, four destroyed homes and 56 more homes with major or minor damage.
The National Weather Service this afternoon confirmed that an EF-2 tornado touched down in Hazelwood. A Weather Service meteorologist observed evidence of tornado damage running about 3.5 miles from near Interstate 270 and St. Charles Rock Road, heading northeast along I-270 and Howdershell Road past Hazelwood West High School. A spokeswoman said the final track may be longer — the meteorologist is still working his way northeast.
An EF-2 tornado is considered a strong tornado, pickling winds of 111 to 135 mph, according to the Enhanced Fujita scale. It is the fourth lowest among the six EF steps.
Damage along a 20-mile path from west of Union, Mo., into St. Louis County near Chesterfield was consistent with the effects of high winds, not a tornado, the National Weather Service.
Weather Service employees are checking two other storm-damage tracks but have yet to determine whether they were caused by tornadoes or high winds, the spokeswoman said.
Hazelwood police said a young man who was critically injured in a fall from a highway bridge Wednesday night probably was blown over the railing by strong winds. Lt. Ron Livingston said witnesses told investigators the man got out of his car on the southbound I-170 span over Nyflot Avenue and appeared to be seeking shelter when he tumbled onto the pavement below.
The man, in his early 20s and from north St. Louis County, was taken to DePaul Health Center, where he was listed Friday in critical condition. Livingston said there still were still strong winds in the area when the man fell about 9:50 p.m.
"We believe it was storm-related," Livingston said.
Another man suffered a broken leg when the storm toppled his SUV on Howdershell Road, said Tim Davidson, a spokesman for the city of Hazelwood.
Rescue workers converged at Howdershell Road and Lynn Haven Lane, site of what appeared to be some of the heaviest storm damage. About two dozen homes and an apartment complex had severe damage. The worst of it is contained to a five-block area, Davidson said.
Nearby, the roofs of two homes were caved in and partially ripped away. An SUV was flipped onto its side. The windows of several businesses were blown out and glass was scattered on sidewalks and parking lots. Insulation and aluminum siding was swaying in trees throughout Hazelwood.
At 7 a.m. Thursday, insurance adjusters, construction crews and tree removal specialists descended on the storm-ravaged neighborhoods. By 8 a.m., the buzz of chainsaws began to fill the air.
Once daylight hit on Thursday morning, the National Weather Service sent a few survey teams to inspect whether the damage was caused by tornadoes or straight-line winds. The surveys would be looking at the paths the storm took from Union to Chesterfield; from Hazelwood to Alton; from Sullivan to the northeast along Interstate 44; and in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.
The worst damage was in Hazelwood, the Hill, where several homes were damaged, and in Sullivan, where there was damage to homes and the airport.
The storm damage in Hazelwood and elsewhere prompted Gov. Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency.
"You look at the amount of damage here and we could just as easily be talking about a number of people killed," Nixon said after visiting the site at midday.
City and state officials were still assessing the damage by early afternoon.
Ameren Missouri reported about 17,000 utility customers were without power in Missouri and about 600 didn't have power in Illinois on Thursday afternoon. Tens of thousands were without power at the height of the storm.
'MY GARAGE WAS GONE'
On Townhouse Lane in Hazelwood, Alan Besaw was staying home from work Thursday. To understand why, all you have to do it look at the two-car garage that once was.
Besaw said he got home from his job driving a UPS truck at about 8 p.m. Wednesday. He took a shower, heard a bang and walked out of the shower to see insulation dust in his house. He stepped outside and, "My garage was gone."
He stayed at his home Wednesday night, but his 1998 Chevy pickup is buried beneath the roof and garage door. He has no transportation so he won't be going to work Thursday.
“My 25-year perfect attendance record ends today,” he said.
“That will probably be the last shower I take for awhile," he added.
Elsewhere in Hazelwood, residents shared stories of close calls.
Ellen Knop, 38, said she hunkered down at her Hazelwood home near Howdershell and Lynn Haven with her husband and toddler son as the storm hit. They emerged to find heavy damage.
"The garage is gone and I'm pretty sure the front porch is in the family room," Knop said.
Brooklyn Scott, 20, and her two little brothers, mom, stepfather, and two dogs huddled in the basement in their home on Ville Maura Lane in Hazelwood near Dunn and Howdershell Roads after hearing the warning sirens.
"It was really loud and we were in the dark," she said.
After the worst was over, family members ventured out into the neighborhood and discovered trees and power lines all over — but thankfully no damage to their own home. Scott and some friends sought shelter in a nearby quick shop, where other people from the neighborhood also waited, compared storm damage notes, and charged their cellphones.
Gary Buneta, 59, who lives at Lynn Haven Lane and Howdershell Road, was in his home when the storm hit and remembered hearing his wind chimes blow wildly before he was thrown from his dining room into a wall in the kitchen. Before he knew it, his roof and several windows blew out, and trees toppled in his yard.
Buneta suffered a few scrapes, and managed to find two dogs and one cat, and was still looking for another cat well after the storm hit. "I'm sure she's probably hiding under something," he said.
Buneta, a tow truck driver, said he suffered a heart attack last year around this time. As he surveyed the damage by candlelight, he looked out what used to be a window. "Hey," he said, "I'm still alive."
Kendra Horton was in her Teson Garden first-floor apartment when the "wind started whistling and making all sorts of noise" about 8 p.m.
"All I had was time to jump in my tub, I couldn't even get to the basement, " she said.
Horton spent the night in a nearby hotel. The Metro employee wiped a tear Thursday morning as she stood in a service station across the street from the apartment complex.
Teson Garden residents were informed the buildings are uninhabitable until they can assess the extent of roof damage from fallen trees.
Pharmacy technicial A.J. Goewert was filling prescriptions at Gifts, Scripts & More pharmacy, at 7025 Howdershell Road, when the worst of the storm hit. It lifted goods off the shelves and tore holes in the roof.
"There was basically a wall of bright white light came through the area," Goewert said later as he helped clean up.
The American Red Cross used Armstrong Elementary School as a shelter Wednesday night for six people. However, the Red Cross decided Thursday to move its shelter and meal site to another location — the Hazelwood Civic Center at 8969 Dunn Road — because the school was being powered by a generator.
Classes will resume Friday at Shenandoah Valley Elementary after six classrooms were damaged and part of the school's roof came off. Teachers from those rooms were working on Thursday to move their classes to temporary locations in the school, spokeswoman Cathy Kelly said. For example, a kindergarten class will meet in the library. But the district was able to replace the water damaged classroom materials with the same books.
Parkway Central High School dismissed students this morning because the school lost electricity about 8:30 a.m. after a power line fell. All after-school activities are canceled. St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood also was closed today due to a power outage.
Reports of severe weather were widespread. Wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph were reported near Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters. A wind gust of 101 mph was reported in Sullivan, with 50 to 80 mph winds throughout the area.
In Kingston, Mo., between Washington and Potosi, a mobile home off Highway 47 was reportedly blown off its foundation. Structural damage was reported at the Washington Metal Fabricators building at Meyer road and State Highway A north of Union.
Many areas, including Union, Gray Summit and Alton, reported trees and large limbs down on roads and power lines.
Thursday morning, Madison County officials said emergency personnel responded to calls for downed power lines and trees throughout Wednesday evening. In Alton, a family was displaced when a tree fell on their home in the 2900 block of Shady Lane. In Godfrey, several boats were damaged at docks along River Road.
Hail of a half-inch in diameter was reported at Scott Air Force Base in Mascoutah.
RAIN CAUSES CREEKS, RIVERS TO RISE
The storm dumped at least an inch of rain across much of eastern Missouri and south-central Illinois. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport reported 1.1 inches. Columbia, Mexico and Hannibal in Missouri each reported more than two inches. White Hall, Ill., in Greene County, had 2.3 inches of rain.
In the St. Louis metro area, St. Peters recorded 1.8 inches. St. Paul, Cottleville and Lake Saint Louis had 1.7 inches. Mehlville and Edwardsvillle had 1.5 inches; and Belleville, Red Bud and Prairie du Rocher, 1.4.
The downpours caused smaller creeks to rise quickly. Dardenne Creek in St. Charles County rose 14 feet Thursday and was forecast to rise another two feet — two feet over flood stage at St. Peters — before falling quickly. The Cuivre River at Troy, Mo., jumped 16 feet Thursday and also was expected to rise another two feet before falling. The forecast crest is four feet over flood stage there.
Wednesday night's storm hit Franklin County before moving northeast through Hazelwood, St. Louis and into Illinois. Its path draws comparisons to the April 22, 2011, "Good Friday storm" that included five powerful tornadoes that struck the neighborhoods from St. Charles County to Madison County.
The strongest tornado that ripped through north St. Louis County in that storm touched down in Maryland Heights, cut across Interstate 270 into Bridgeton, plowed through St. Ann, hit a Berkeley neighborhood and caused major damage to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and parts of Ferguson. Three more twisters swept through parts of St. Clair, Madison, Clinton, Bond and Monroe counties.
The tornadoes damaged thousands of homes and buildings but killed no one and cause few major injuries.