Airport resuming operations slowly after EF3 twister that hit several nearby suburbs

In this aerial photograph, debris is strewn about a neighborhood Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Bridgeton, Mo., following a Friday-evening tornado in the area. St. Louis' main airport was closed for business Saturday while crews cleaned up after a tornado tore through a terminal, causing several injuries and sending people scurrying for shelter as plated glass shattered around them. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In this aerial photograph, debris is strewn about a neighborhood Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Bridgeton, Mo., following a Friday-evening tornado in the area. St. Louis' main airport was closed for business Saturday while crews cleaned up after a tornado tore through a terminal, causing several injuries and sending people scurrying for shelter as plated glass shattered around them. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Debris from splintered homes covered the ground in neighborhoods around St. Louis, while topped trees and overturned cars littered lawns and driveways. From the air, one home looked like a dollhouse that had had its roof lifted off. Looking down, the dining room table and other contents could be seen, damp in lingering rain.

Amid such devastation, officials appeared awed that a tornado that roared through the area Friday night, striking the airport and several nearby suburbs, hadn't seriously injured anyone.

"It was horrific. For that much damage to be done and no one lost their life, it is simply a blessing," said Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County's executive.

The National Weather Service says a tornadowas at least an EF3 on the tornado-strength scale, carrying wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph.

Cleanup swung into full gear Saturday. With the din of chain saws and pounding hammers in the background, homeowners sifted through wreckage while crews scrambled to restore power to the 31,700 customers still without it.

At Lambert, workers boarded up windows and swept up glass in the main terminal, where the twister had torn off part of the roof and blown out half of the large, plate-glass windows. The domed design of the main terminal, dating to the mid-1950s, was the handiwork of Minoru Yamasaki, the Modernist architect of New York City's World Trade Center twin towers toppled in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The airport has reopened for some arriving flights. Departures are expected to resume early Sunday morning.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said there would be roughly eight or nine arrivals into St. Louis Saturday night from Delta, AirTran and Southwest. She says about 70 percent of the scheduled inbound and outbound flights will go on as planned starting at 6 a.m. Sunday.

Hamm-Niebruegge says Concourse C that sustained heavy damage from a Friday night tornado will remain closed for up to two months. Three other concourses in the main terminal will remain functional, as will a separate Southwest terminal.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said officials hoped to reopen the airport at about three-fourths capacity Sunday if they could get power restored.

Insurance adjusters converged in nearby Maryland Heights and Bridgeton, where roofers were going door to door to offer free temporary repairs.

"It's crazy -- like something you'd see in a movie," Tim Kreitler, 27, said as he helped a neighbor clean up in Bridgeton.

Vivi Magana, 17, and her parents were trying to clean up the mess at their Bridgeton home, where a huge tree in the front yard had been pulled out by the roots. An even larger tree in the back was split down the middle. A sliding glass door was shattered, and holes were in the roof.

Magana said the family was in the living room Friday night when her mother heard a roar of wind. As they rushed to the basement, Magana saw a lawn chair smash through the glass door. They emerged when the wind stopped.

"Everyone was screaming to make sure we were all OK," Magana said.

Scott Truett, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said it was possible that a tornado that touched down near the St. Charles County town of New Melle was the one that ripped into the airport and apparently other parts of St. Louis County. If that was the case, the tornado sustained itself for roughly 30 miles.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced late Friday he had declared a state of emergency, allowing state agencies to assist local jurisdictions with their emergency responses to the storm's aftermath, including the destruction at Lambert.

"The state of Missouri is ready to assist at every stage of this emergency to keep Missouri families safe and help communities recover," Nixon said.

In the suburbs of Maryland Heights and New Melle, storms caused damage to several dozen homes. There were no immediate reports of major injuries. Some playground equipment in New Melle was left in a twisted heap by the storm that also tore up roofs and ripped off siding.

Damage was also reported at several towns near the airport -- St. Ann, Ferguson and Florissant. Interstate 270 in that area was closed for more than four hours. Trees and power lines were down. A tractor-trailer was sitting on its end.

St. Charles County Sheriff's Lt. Craig McGuire said there were early reports of at least 20 homes damaged in the county.

"It was pretty wicked," he said.

The utility company Ameren Missouri reported more than 47,000 power outages, with another 7,000 reported in Illinois.

At the airport, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines Co. said one of its planes was damaged when the wind pushed a conveyor belt for loading baggage into it. Five other planes on the ground when the tornado hit were OK, spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said. Southwest -- the biggest carrier at Lambert, with 85 departures per day -- canceled all St. Louis flights through 4 p.m. Saturday.

American Airlines, which operates out of the heavily hit main terminal, said four of its planes were damaged, two of them significantly. Crosswinds of 80 mph buffeted one plane that was taxiing in from a landing when the tornado hit, and that plane was being checked for possible damage to its landing gear, spokesman Ed Martelle said. American canceled 51 flights on Saturday, five dozen on Sunday and its first seven Monday morning.

"We're going to have to re-create our infrastructure at Lambert," Martelle said. "The question is, how many additional gates can we borrow, because none of ours are going to be functional for some time."

Hundreds of travelers were delayed, and a dozen who stayed in the terminal Friday night were given pillows and blankets, Hamm-Niebruegge said. All had left the airport by Saturday morning, and officials thought most were staying with friends or family.

Still, Hamm-Niebruegge said it could have been worse -- the storm hit on a night when the airport is generally less busy.

Truett said the twister followed the same track as one that tore up the area in January 1967, when one with winds of up to 200 mph ripped a 21-mile-long path of destruction across St. Louis County. That tornado stayed on the ground for roughly 35 minutes, leaving an estimated $15 million damage and killing three people.

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