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story.lead_photo.caption Sally Ince/ News Tribune Metal covering rests wrapped around poles and a damaged car Thursday May 23, 2019 at a gas station along Ellis Boulevard after a tornado tore through the city Wednesday night. The National Weather Service has ruled Wednesday’s tornado as an EF-3, with peak winds reaching 160mph.
Gallery: Initial May 22, 2019 Tornado Photo Gallery

Some of most severe damage from Wednesday night's tornado was on Ellis Boulevard in Jefferson City.

Many of the first reports of damage, around 11:45 p.m., were from businesses such as Break Time and Sonic Drive-In, whose roofs were severely damaged by winds from what the National Weather Service classified as an EF-3 tornado, which can have top wind speeds of 160 mph.

Emergency crews responded to the intersection of Ellis Boulevard and Christy Drive, near the U.S. 54 overpass, and found so much debris on Ellis that heavy equipment was needed to clear the street. That machinery arrived shortly after midnight and cleared the way for emergency crews to go further down Ellis Boulevard, where more damage awaited.

The storm went on to hit Community Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) across from Break Time, then traveled to the Firley YMCA, where a wall was taken out, and down to Hawthorne Park Apartments, where more extensive damage occurred.

Throughout the early morning hours Thursday, apartment residents who stayed at the complex and those who had decided to go to another location went in and out of the area.

James Rodgers and his family got out before the storms hit.

"Some of us had been through a tornado before, so we got out and went to another place," he said.

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The apartment complex had parts of roofs torn off buildings, windows broken out and other damage.

Rodgers himself had never experienced a tornado, so it was shocking to see the devastation.

"The main thing is we're all together," he said.

Jefferson City Police Department spokesman Lt. David Williams said the apartment complex was one of many places law enforcement officers went door to door to make sure people were safe.

"Over the next few days, evaluations will be done to see what structures can be saved along Ellis and throughout the city," Williams said.

Dr. Grace Yan, assistant professor of structural engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, assessed damage in the Ellis Boulevard area Thursday afternoon with some of her Ph.D. students.

Yan studies wind pressure of tornadoes to develop new models for tornado-resistant design of buildings. She hopes her research will be used to strengthen building codes for municipalities.

"Based on our observations, this was a one-vortex or single-cell, small tornado," Yan said. "Most of the building codes we see now design a structure to withstand straight line winds. We need to design structures to resist tornadoes."