Saturday, April 23, 2011

Terror from the Skies in St. Louis







ST. LOUIS (AP/KMOV) -- Power is back on and a handful of incoming flights have landed at Lambert International Airport after a severe storm struck St. Louis Friday night.


St. Louis officials originally thought the airport would not be operational at all on Saturday, but airport director, Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said that a handful of flights will be landing at Lambert tonight. The airport is currently open for arrivals only.
Crews had worked through the night in trying to clean up Lambert Airport, boarding up windows and sweeping up shattered glass after a category EF2 tornado forced the airport to shut down. That effort pressed on Saturday, with police standing guard at spots where windows had been blown out.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Hamm-Niebruegge, told reporters Saturday that the airport could be even more functional on Sunday.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado had hit the airport, ripping away a large section of the main terminal's roof.
At the airport, several of the main terminal's windows had been blown out, sending glass and rain into the building. Elsewhere on the property, trees were toppled and power lines downed, limiting access even hours after the storm passed.
But the airfield itself was fully functional, Hamm-Niebruegge said, perhaps allowing some airlines to shuttle in crews.
"We will not have departures out of here today, but we expect a good number of departures out of here tomorrow," Hamm-Niebruegge said. Slay added that it was hoped the airport would be up to full capacity by the middle of next week.
"This effort is going to take the cooperation and involvement of people of all levels of government," Slay said. "We are confident we will make this airport as good as it's ever been in terms of its condition."
Hamm-Niebruegge and Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County's executive, said they felt blessed there weren't more injuries than the five victims who were taken to hospitals, all of them later treated and release.
"When you look at the devastation around, it really is a miracle there were no fatalities," Hamm-Niebruegge said.
A dozen passengers stayed in the terminal Friday night, given pillows and blankets, Hamm-Niebruegge said. Hundreds of travelers were delayed, although the storm's affect was mitigated because it hit on a night when the airport is generally less occupied.
"As late as it was in the evening, there was only a handful of flights coming in," she said.
Airlines were assessing damage to their planes Saturday. Southwest Airlines Co. spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said it had one plane damaged by a baggage loading conveyer belt that was pushed by the wind. American Airlines said four of its planes were damaged, two of them significantly.
Southwest canceled all St. Louis flights through 4 p.m. Saturday. American, which operates out of the heavily-damaged main terminal, won't fly out of St. Louis until at least Monday morning, spokesman Ed Martelle said.
Spokeswomen for Greyhound and Amtrak said both modes of alternate transportation stood ready to handle an increased demand from storm-affected travelers trying to make their way out of St. Louis, though it was not immediately clear how many of those people were trying to catch buses or trains.
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Associated Press writer Josh Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.