Fort Leonard Wood begins recuperation after tornado disaster

Friday, December 31, 2010 | 8:54 p.m. CST; updated 4:36 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 1, 2011
Shown are the homes and cars destroyed by a tornado that touched down at the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in southern Missouri on Friday morning. In the neighborhood of about 75 homes, an estimated 75 percent were destroyed.

FORT LEONARD WOOD — The Boone County Fire Protection District sent a search-and-rescue team to Fort Leonard Wood on Friday afternoon to help victims of a tornado that swept through the Army base early in the day.

The advance team arrived at the disaster site at 3 p.m. and began search operations before concluding their work at 6 p.m. The team was on its way home Friday night.


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Columbia's team of rescuers double-checked areas that had been previously searched and investigated others that were difficult to access without proper training in structural collapse.

"They wanted to give peace of mind that there was no one trapped underneath the roof of a house," Boone County Assistant Chief Doug Westhoff said. "We are more comfortable working in such an environment."

The tornado landed at the sprawling Army base about 9:30 a.m., tearing through a neighborhood of about 75 homes. The National Weather Service estimated winds of 136 to 165 mph.

The storm not only toppled an undetermined number of buildings, but it also disrupted the base's power supply, shut off water and damaged gas lines.

Only minor injuries were reported, in large part because Fort Leonard Wood had issued holiday leave for all soldiers on base from Dec. 19 to Jan. 3.

Homes in the tornado's path were officers housing, but few people were inside Friday morning.

As  Gen. David Phillips told Jeff Maddy, the chief of public information for the base: If you had to have a disaster, there couldn't have been a better time.

On a routine day, the base has a population of more than 50,000.

For those who remained at Fort Leonard Wood for the holidays, the rescue process turned out to be quick and efficient.

The fire department on base, along with civilian volunteers and military personnel, did an initial search and recovery. Residents were relocated to alternate Army lodging; a second inspection was performed; buildings were marked; and severely damaged buildings were left for specialists — such as the crew of volunteers from Boone County.

"We got a huge response today when we called, and that was great," Maddy said.

In fact, Missouri Task Force 1 was preparing to send dozens more volunteers to the military base Friday, but Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp said in a late afternoon news release that they were no longer needed.

Those who lived through the tornado, however, say it was an experience they will not soon forget.

“It was very windy and pouring down rain. Then it started hailing,” said Amber Sprow, 16, of Rolla. Sprow found shelter inside the post exchange with about 40 others.

“I was terrified,” she said.

Jessica Badolato, who was visiting her family at Fort Leonard Wood from North Carolina, said she awoke to warning sirens.

Alerting the rest of her family, she went outside with her father.

“What was really scary was that we heard it, but we couldn’t see it,” Badolato said.

She and her dad rushed back inside the home to seek shelter.

“It sounded like a train wreck,” she said. "You could hear it picking up stuff.

“We were shaken and scared in the hallway with the mattresses on top of us. My family was praying. … I felt a peace just come over me.”

Her family's house withstood the storm, but the next block of homes was not as lucky.

“We saw power lines cut, piles of cars, houses inside out,” Badolato said. “I was just devastated. I was crying.”

The Laclede Electric Cooperative worked throughout the day to restore power, and all gas lines had either been repaired or shut off by Friday night.

"Obviously, we're going to have to rebuild, in essence, an entire neighborhood," Maddy said. "It'll be weeks before they get it all cleaned up."

For families that were out of town for the holidays, the situation remains uncertain upon their return Sunday.

Community organizations that support Fort Leonard Wood from Phelps, Pulaski and Laclede counties have already shown their willingness to provide aid in the upcoming weeks, Maddy said.

"Regardless, training will commence on the third of January," he said.

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Lori Davis January 1, 2011 | 10:21 p.m.

Army is POST not base, Air Force and Navy is BASE and Marines are Camp. Might be minor to a non-military affiliated person but it really DOES matter.

Thanks for asking me for my comment

(Report Comment)
Jeanne Abbott January 1, 2011 | 11:10 p.m.

Thanks so much for your comment. I did take the time to worry about this and check references. I took my cue from sources such as this: Perhaps there is still some confusion about the correct term. Please let us know if we are still in error.

Jeanne Abbott
Managing editor, Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Patrick Fallon January 2, 2011 | 5:22 p.m.

Some additional pictures from the scene:

(Report Comment)
Laura Cooper January 6, 2011 | 12:36 a.m.

For those of you wishing to donate items to the tornado victims at Fort Leonard Wood, the USO is seeking the following items:
Wash Clothes
Shower Curtains
Bath Rugs/Mats
Toilet Brushes
First Aid Kits
Laundry Detergent
Cleaning Products
WalMart Gift Cards
Lowes Gift Cards

They can be sent to:
805 Iowa Ave.
Fort Leonard Wood, MO 65473

(Report Comment)
William Howland January 7, 2011 | 10:21 a.m.

It is a very difficult task for the uninitiated to fully know the lingo of any specialized field. As a soldier who has served many joint assignments, I would just like to point out that there are many, many more terms used to describe military installations. Even among the soldiers stationed at FLW, one would hear the base referred to by many different titles, all correct in some sense. I have been stationed at FLW for training several times and as an Engineer officer I will return there. I would really like to thank the staff at the Missourian for a well written, thoughtful article that clearly expresses the pertinent information. A disaster occurred, no one was seriously injured and the post will rebuild. (And yes I know I used both titles in this post. It was intentional.) If one was to grab a Thesaurus, they would find that post and base are synonyms. Camp is also used to describe ARNG facilities. There are also airfields, armories, arsenals, barracks, camps, centers, depots, forward operating bases (FOB), kasernes, stations, training areas and villages. This list is by no means exhaustive.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 7, 2011 | 11:03 a.m.

Hopefully the reconstruction will be swift. It's unlikely folks in Columbia, Kansas City or St. Louis appreciate the economic impact Fort Wood has on the economy of Pulaski and Phelps counties. For example, the first DOT-approved hydrogen fueling station in Missouri was built at Rolla, and one reason for this was to fuel shuttle buses running between Rolla and Fort Wood.

(Report Comment)

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