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US Sen. Blunt surveys Capital City storm damage

by Bob Watson | May 29, 2019 at 3:06 a.m. | Updated June 3, 2019 at 7:26 p.m.
Sen. Roy Blunt visited Jefferson City on Tuesday to see the damage left in the wake of Wednesday's late night tornado. During his stop, he visited the Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus, located just off of Christy Drive. SOMO President Susan Stegeman, at right, lead the tour and was joined by Blunt, Mayor Carrie Tergin and a host of area officials.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt noted he's had a long relationship with Missouri's Special Olympics operations - and was in Jefferson City last November when the organization dedicated its brand new Training for Life Campus at the south edge of town.

On Tuesday, six months later, he was walking through the building, looking at the damage caused by last Wednesday night's tornado - including a missing roof over the gym that allows water to fall on the hardwood floor, broken windows throughout the building and a ripped up surface on the outdoor running track behind the building.

"We're going to be working hand-in-hand with our state recovery officials and the governor and his administration to be sure that we qualify for all of the (aid) programs that you need to qualify for," the Missouri Republican said after his tour.

"And if, for some reason, we don't (qualify), then we'll go back and try to figure out what the alternatives may be."

Susan Stegeman, a Special Olympics employee since 1990, became the organization's president and CEO on April 1, succeeding Mark Musso when he retired after 27 years with SOMO.

She said the support for the organization has been "incredible."

"We had, literally, 200 people - I call them the 'army of volunteers' - on Friday, that moved us out of the campus and to alternative office space, as well as to a warehouse that was made available for as long as we needed it," she said. "All that was identified within two hours."

Stegeman said SOMO is "disappointed, terribly" to have canceled this year's summer games, which had been scheduled this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Springfield.

With the widespread flooding along the Missouri, Mississippi and several tributaries, and a long-range forecast for more storms, she explained, "Once we get to the games, if there's thunderstorms and lightning, safety is number one.

"It just became about people (and safety) and less about us."

Special Olympics on Tuesday also announced the cancellation of today's law enforcement torch run, because of the tornado damage and the flooding in Jefferson City.

"'Summer Rebuild' is our theme," Stegeman told reporters, "and our team is strong.

"Our athletes have called to volunteer and help us, (and) we will be rebuilding because we are strong."

People who want to help with monetary donations are encouraged to send a text message to "SOMORebuild," at 71777, she said, "and that will go a long way to helping us."

Stegeman didn't know the extent of the damage caused by last week's twister, because structural engineers were evaluating the building Tuesday.

"They've not found anything, so far, that we didn't see just with our untrained eyes," she said.

"But they're the experts - so we'll wait and see."

She's hoping the damage will require repairs rather than demolition.

Blunt said he's confident "the federal government is going to step up too and include all of the 2019 disasters in the bill the Senate passed right before we left (Washington)."

That $19 billion aid bill has been stalled in the U.S. House, where a couple of representatives have blocked its being passed with "unanimous consent" when many House members are, like Blunt, back in their districts for the planned Memorial Day in-district work period.

In addition to covering all disaster aid requests for 2019 - even those that haven't happened yet - Blunt said the bill includes "some very specific Missouri things, particularly for Missouri agriculture."

They include "lost grain, which is normally not covered by any disaster program," he said, and "more stored grain will be covered in ways that it's never been (before)."

He said the disaster bill also provides "better treatment for farmers who are prevented from planting," especially in flooded areas, with a temporary upgrade to the normal federal crop insurance program.

The federal bill waiting for the U.S. House's approval also includes levee restoration, including some private levees.

But, he told reporters, the money won't flow immediately to the state once the House passes it.

"The disaster money will come to areas that have had the proper documentation," he explained. "The governor's already approved the first set of flood disasters (and) actually, flood disasters are harder to calculate than tornado and other disasters because sometimes you have to wait to see what happens.

"As soon as disasters are officially documented, submitted by the governor and approved by the president, then that money will be available."

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin noted Blunt was among the first officials who called Thursday morning, "to check in on Jefferson City. I can assure you, we are strong (and) doing as well as we can."

Tergin noted the people who participate in Special Olympics already know how to deal with adversity, and "they will teach us how to get through this."

She called the law enforcement and emergency services' quick response "amazing."

Sheriff John Wheeler told the News Tribune that response was based on years of area responders working together and building relationships.

"Unfortunately, we think about this all the time," he explained. "We have a chiefs meeting once a month (with) all the chiefs in the county - fire, police (and) EMS.

"Everybody comes to those meetings, and it's the relationships we build, so we know each other and we know how to operate."

Blunt credited Wednesday night's media warnings, as the storm approached through Eldon and Brazito on its way to Jefferson City - and the public's response - "and not have (any) loss of life, with all the property destruction you see, is really an amazing thing."


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