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story.lead_photo.caption Cesar Smith rests on his front lawn Friday as he waits for help to clear debris from his home near East Atchison Street. Smith was inside when the home was struck by the tornado Wednesday night, but he was unharmed. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Wednesday's tornado that hit the Capital City was anything but a run of the mill storm.

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The evidence of that can be seen in the number of houses damaged, as well as the perspectives of those who routinely are involved in helping communities pick up the pieces after a tragedy.

The origins of the tragedy was a string of storms that began Wednesday near Eldon that traveled up Missouri 17 at the southern end of Cole County and eventually churned into Jefferson City. The tornado, which left a 3-mile path of destruction from Christy Drive toward the Missouri River, hit at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday and remained on the ground for several minutes before moving out of the city. A damage survey team rated the tornado an EF-3, indicative of top winds of 160 mph.

As the Ameren Missouri crews have been repairing gas and electric service to Jefferson City area customers, the workers have said the damage left by Wednesday's tornado was much like what some of them had seen when they helped in hurricane recovery efforts.

"I've worked several tornadoes, and this is what you would typically see," said Chip Webb, Ameren's Central Division director. "When you have your run of the mill severe storm, you don't see anything nearly like this."

On Friday morning, Webb and dozens of other Ameren workers were out along Ellis Boulevard and Christy Drive working to restore electrical service to businesses and homes.

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One of the newest tools for crews to use to assess damage are drones. Webb said they are able to fly over an area after a storm has moved through and scan and locate utilities so they don't have to send workers into potentially dangerous areas.

"It keeps our crews from having to walk through a landmine field like what we first saw on Ellis," Webb said. "In the southern part of the country, there have been times we had to walk miles and miles to look for a problem area, and these devices can fly up to 2 miles in any direction to do those checks."

Some of the damage to local buildings separated some of Ameren's gas piping and allowed gas to leak, Webb said. He estimated more than 100 individual businesses or homes were impacted in that way.

As far as replacement of electrical poles, crews are finding many of the poles were broken below the ground.

In those instances, Ameren officials set a brand new pole next to the broken one. Crews then go up in buckets and move the wires to the new pole. On Christy Drive, from the intersection of Ellis Boulevard down to Missouri 179, crews had to use this method on 25 poles they replaced.

Across Jefferson City, Ameren crews replaced 200 poles. Company officials said they hope to have all Jefferson City area gas and electric customers back in service by today.

Crews are continuing to work to restore power to Three Rivers Electric Cooperative members in Cole and Miller counties.

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Assisting the linemen from Three Rivers are crews from Macon Electric Cooperative, Crawford Electric Cooperative, Central Electric Power Cooperative and Kiowa Linebuilders.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, there were 911 members without power 641 in Cole County, 268 in Miller County and two in Gasconade County.

"Our crews will continue to work throughout the holiday weekend until our members have power," Three Rivers spokesman Mark Boyer said.


Missouri Task Force 1 confirmed Friday more than 200 buildings were damaged or destroyed by Wednesday's tornado.

Search and rescue teams assessed 1,228 buildings. Of those, 157 were damaged, 55 failed and 11 were destroyed. To be assessed as a failure, a building's would have to be partially collapsed or missing its roof. In the 3-square-mile area inspected, 1,005 buildings were undamaged.

Missouri Task Force 1 is one of 28 urban search and rescue teams in the country, and it deploys upon request to help local emergency response teams. The Jefferson City Fire Department requested help from the task force.

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Gale Blomenkamp, assistant chief with the Boone County Fire Protection District, told the Columbia Missourian that task force members were deployed within five minutes of receiving the request.

The task force began by searching Hawthorne Park, an apartment complex in the 500 block of Ellis Boulevard in Jefferson City. No rescues were necessary.

"We were interacting with the people who live in those areas and trying to make sure that (everyone was) accounted for," Blomenkamp told the Missourian.

The 32 task force members in Jefferson City split into six teams, along with Jefferson City Fire Department and Building Department personnel, Ameren Gas and Electric technicians, law enforcement officers and ambulances.

"We went out and did a large grid search of the entire damaged area," Blomenkamp said. "We were marking buildings, assessing damage (and) doing searches in those buildings based on the structural damage that was there."

All members were released from Jefferson City and demobilized by 6 p.m. Thursday.


Friday saw more groups turning out to volunteer to help with restoration.

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Gary Mitchell with Bible Baptist Church in Jefferson City was with a group of church members who were walking along Mesa Avenue, helping residents who needed assistance with clearing trees and debris. Those receiving help included at least two fellow church members.

"Our church, on the west end of town, was not affected by the storm," Mitchell said. "There's just so much damage out there that we wanted to get out and help."

Mitchell said he was glad to see other groups and organizations helping residents.

"I've seen it in other communities before, and it's nice to see it when something like this happens in your community," Mitchell said.


The work week may be over, but the cleanup work will continue.

Jefferson City Public Works crews will continue cleanup operations through this weekend and Memorial Day, Jefferson City Operations Director Britt Smith said.

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Republic Services is also extending its hours at the Jefferson City landfill, located at 5605 Moreau River Access Road, from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Monday.


Jefferson City extended its 9 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew into today for the area bordered by Monroe Street, Stadium Boulevard, Lafayette Street and the Missouri River.

The police department will announce today whether the curfew will remain in effect and which areas that will impact, said Lt. Dave Williams, Jefferson City Police Department spokesman.

"We want to make sure that when we open that back up, it's safe for the homeowners first because those are the ones we're concerned about," Williams said. "Our responsibility is to make sure we're protecting our citizens and part of that is restricting that area."

The curfew not only allowed emergency personnel, work crews and residents to clean up after the tornado, Williams and Capt. Eric Wilde said, it also protected vulnerable structures from looting.

"We do not want to allow these areas to be open for unwanted persons to come in and start pillaging," Wilde said.

The Columbia Missourian contributed to this report.

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