A funnel-shaped storm front packing winds in excess of 80 mph clobbered Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport (STL) on Friday, April 22, 2011 beginning at about 9:00 p.m. CDT, according to the National Weather Service reporting station KSTL and NWS spokesperson Chris Vaccaro.
The intense storm vented its fury within minutes, as it moved across the airport grounds, knocking out power, shattering about half of the glass in Terminal 1, damaging cars and shuttle vans, removing building insulation and roof tiles, and even lifting an American Airlines Boeing 757 and moving it about 20 feet from a gate at which it was parked, as reported by the Associated Press, KMOV Sky Zoom 4, The New York Times, MSNBC, the Saint Louis Business Journal, the Columbia Missourian, and other media sources on Saturday, April 23, 2011.
Damage to the facility, rated as the fifty-seventh busiest airport in the United States by passenger traffic was severe, and forced its complete closure, as airport director Rhoda Hamm-Niebruegge stated Friday evening to reporters, as shown in the attached video clip and slide show.
The St. Louis airport has about 250 daily departures, about half the number it had 10 years ago.
Around 500 passengers were in the terminal when the storm struck, covering many with glass, plaster, and other debris. Injuries were surprising minor, considering the force of the winds, the damage which they caused to the physical plant, and the ease in which vehicles in the nearby parking lot were tossed about.
Airport staff and law enforcement officers moved crowds into more secure stairwells and bathroom facilities to protect them from further injuries. Debris could be seen everywhere.
The tornado was part of a series of strong storms that struck central and eastern Missouri. Unconfirmed tornadoes were reported in several counties in the St. Louis area.
American Airlines reported damage to two of its aircraft. Its spokesman Ed Martelle reported that two more planes had lesser damage but should be flyable by the end of the day. Southwest Airlines is also assessing damage to its equipment. A spokeswoman for that carrier, Marilee McInnis indicated that one of its planes was damaged by a baggage loading conveyer belt that was pushed into it by the wind.
It is possible that some flights may resume on Sunday, April 24, but currently all air traffic has been diverted to Kansas City International Airport (MCI). One runway has already been cleared of debris, and is operational, along with the control tower, according to FAA spokesperson Tony Molinaro.
The storm which closed the Saint Louis airport also caused thunderstorms from Texas to Ohio, along with 24 tornadoes that were spotted in five states. However, St. Louis and the surrounding areas were hit hardest.
Another recent airport devastation and closure took place at Sendai Airport (SDJ) in Japan, when it was clobbered by massive tsunami waves as high as 127 feet on March 11, 2011. By comparison, that natural disaster was much worse than yesterday’s storms at Lambert Field.
Quoting Chris Vaccaro, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service (NWS), “Certainly yesterday was a pretty high-impact event. I can’t recall the last time an airport was hit, and hit this severely.”
In addition to the disarray at the airport itself, the surrounding roadways and public infrastructure are also in need of repair. There are reports of gas leaks, sparking power lines and downed trees blocking roadways.
Ameren Corporation, the utility which serves the region, reported more than 46,000 power outages, with another 7,000 reported in Illinois.
At the airport itself, installation and roofing tile were tossed throughout the inside and outside of Terminal One. Large, plate-glass windows were blown out, and left lying on the exterior walkways. A shuttle was balanced precariously from the top level of a parking garage, and presented a major safety hazard to those below it.
A first hand report by Dianna Merrill, a 43-year-old mail carrier from St. Louis, who was waiting to fly to New York, paints a vivid picture of the chaos. According to Ms. Merrill, “Glass was blowing everywhere. The ceiling was falling. The glass was hitting us in the face. Hail and rain were coming in. The wind was blowing debris all over the place,” she said. “It was like being in a horror movie. Grown men were crying. It was horrible.”
The major air carriers which serve STL include American (AA), United (UA), Delta (DL), Southwest (WN), Frontier (F9), and AirTran (FL), Alaska (AS), and Continental (CO), along with several regional commuter airlines. Check with your airline for the status of any flight that may be impacted by the Saint Louis Airport disruptions.
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