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‘I was terrified’: Residents assess damage wrought by overnight tornadoes
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‘I was terrified’: Residents assess damage wrought by overnight tornadoes

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FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. — As tornadoes ripped through the bistate region south of St. Louis on Sunday night, Michael Knott’s solid brick rental home was reduced to a pile of rubble.

Knott and his mother, Mandy Knott, headed to the basement of the house off U.S. Highway 67 in Fredericktown around 8:30 p.m.

It only took seconds for a tornado to roar through and flatten the house above them. They called friends to help dig them out.

“I was terrified,” Mandy Knott said. “We used to live in Florida and rode out two hurricanes there. Never thought it would be here this would happen.”

Survey teams from the National Weather Service office in Weldon Spring were dispatched early Monday to the areas hardest hit by at least two tornadoes Sunday night: one near Fredericktown, Missouri; and another in St. Mary, Missouri, that traveled to Chester, Illinois.

They estimated a “strong” EF-3 tornado with winds between 136 and 165 mph hit the Fredericktown area, and a weaker EF-1 tornado with winds between 86 and 110 mph hit Chester. They noted those ratings could be upgraded as more information is gathered this week.

By Monday afternoon, authorities had not reported a single fatality nor severe injury in the storms that downed buildings, trees and power lines.

In Fredericktown, a city of about 4,000 about 85 miles south of St. Louis, RVs were left on their sides, metal siding was twisted around the trunks of trees and more than 10 buildings were leveled with many more significantly damaged.

Fredericktown schools called off classes Monday due to “communitywide power outages and damages incurred by families” in the storm.

Black River Electric Cooperative had roughly 1,100 customers still without power Monday evening. Ameren reported almost 800 people without power in the area southeast of Farmington. And an outage map for Citizens Electric Corp. in Ste. Genevieve and Perry counties showed more than 640 people without power.

At the peak of outages on Sunday night, Ameren had reported 30,200 customers without power in Illinois and 2,300 across Missouri, mostly due to the widespread storms.

Robin Vance, owner of Filtration System Products, was overseeing a crew starting to clear a massive pile of debris left from what had been his company’s new, 45,000-square-foot warehouse in Fredericktown.

The company makes filtration supplies, including recently supplying about 10 million surgical and N95 masks that are in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vance said. The warehouse built months ago was going to be the company’s new offices and held large amounts of supplies used in making masks, Vance said.

“It’s just total devastation here,” he said. “We had been planning this building for two-and-a-half years and then this happens.”

Vance said the storm was so powerful it dropped a dumpster and a trailer he’d never seen before on the warehouse property.

Right outside of Fredericktown off Highway OO, history teacher Josh Minx gathered his neighbors and family members, including three children younger than 6, at his home during the tornado.

“I’m one of the only people around here with a basement,” he said Monday. “I got into the basement from picking up my stepdaughter, maybe just a minute or two before the tornado came through. It was close.”

Minx said he could hear the banging and crashing of debris outside when the tornado passed. When it was all done, his neighbors had significant damage, someone’s trampoline was left in his yard and a tiny home Minx had been assembling since May for his daughter on his property was obliterated.

“She’s nine months pregnant and set to be induced in two days,” Minx said. “So this was bad timing.”

Minx said his family was still looking for a place to stay Monday night, but might have to drive several miles out of town because nearby hotels were filling up after the storm.

Second storm

In the path of the second tornado, an antiques mall was destroyed in St. Mary, a city of fewer than 400 people in Ste. Genevieve County. Electricity was out in the area, and debris blocked several roads. Crews with chainsaws were trying to clear the roads Monday morning. Authorities credited a warning siren for helping get people inside before the tornado blew through town.

From St. Mary, the storm barreled across the Mississippi River into Illinois and the community of Chester. Fire Chief Marty Bert said the main damage in town was confined to power lines and downed trees, estimating roughly a third of the town was without power as of 1 a.m. Monday.

As many as a half-dozen roofs were ripped from trailer homes on Trails End.

“Not even a minor injury,” said Larry Willis, a spokesman with the Randolph County Emergency Management Agency in Illinois. “Which is amazing because I think some people were home in that trailer park.”

Willis said he drove between Chester and Bremen, about 5 miles away, on Monday morning and could see a “a definite path” that a twister might have taken. He said the tops were twisted off rows of trees.

High wind damaged the roof to a nursing home in Randolph County, and the home had a natural gas leak that was shut off promptly, Willis said. No one there had to be evacuated, Willis added. A large pole barn about 100 yards from the nursing home was demolished, he said.

He credited weather forecasters with getting the word out two days ahead, as well as residents heeding warnings.

“If we end up coming out of this event, that there weren’t any injuries, that will (be) very fortunate,” said Alex Elmore, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Weldon Spring.

It’s too early to know how long each tornado was on the ground or how wide the path of each one was, Elmore said.

Morgan Bailey describes the tornado that hit Fredericktown area Sunday night. Video by Colter Peterson/Post-Dispatch

Colter Peterson and Katie Kull of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report, as did the Daily Journal in Park Hills.

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