Columbia residents tell their accounts of the St. Louis tornado

Monday, April 25, 2011 | 9:27 p.m. CDT; updated 10:56 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 25, 2011

COLUMBIA — One was on a plane, one was in a hotel and one was in a car.

All three were near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport when a EF-4 tornado hit at 8:13 p.m. Friday. EF-4 tornadoes — the scale goes from zero to five — have wind speeds between 166 and 200 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Surveillance videos

The surveillance cameras at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport recorded the damage from the tornado Friday. 

Here are some links to the footage:


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On the plane

Allison Seibel was already afraid of flying.

Seibel, a journalism student at MU, was on board American Airlines Flight 699 to Chicago when the tornado hit. The plane was on the tarmac during the storm.

Seibel said it was worse than any turbulence that she had ever experienced.

"It felt like the plane was going to tip over and people were screaming," Seibel said.

The airline staff had no idea what was going on and afterward, the flight attendants worked to get the passengers off the plane.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life," Seibel said. "The baggage carts that take all the bags to the claim, those were like flipped over and piled on top of each other."

There was only one entrance available to get back into the airport, and it was near the baggage claim area, Seibel said.

"The doors were blown off and mangled like they were nothing," Seibel said. "I saw an airport employee being brought out on a stretcher because they were injured by glass."

In the hotel

MU sophomore Greg Loeffler's flight had been canceled earlier in the day.

"I was trying to fly out to visit my family. I had a 6 p.m. flight," Loeffler said. "Something had broken on (the plane)."

The airline comped his room at the Crowne Plaza until he could fly to Oklahoma at 6 a.m. Saturday.

"I saw basically solid rain out my window," Loeffler said. "Visibility was incredibly low."

Loeffler said power was out in the hotel from 8:30 p.m. on Friday until about 6 a.m. on Saturday.

"It didn't hit me that it was a tornado until later," Loeffler said.

It wasn't until Saturday morning that he saw the aftermath. The hotel next to his was missing part of its roof.

"The area around me wasn't really affected, it was mostly across I-70 and down west on I-70," Loeffler said. "I drove on I-70 and there was debris everywhere."

In the car

MU junior and Missourian reporter Ann Elise Taylor was driving from Columbia to Chesterfield to visit her boyfriend.

"I calculated it later, I was under 15 miles from Lambert when the tornado hit," Taylor said.

Taylor, who is originally from Texas, recognized some of the signs of a tornado from past experiences. She has never been in a tornado, but she has been near enough to know the signs.

"It was odd weather," she said. "The sky was kind of that weird orange-ish, green-ish color."

Taylor pulled off to the side of the road once sirens started going off.

"The sirens were really loud. There were still a ton of cars on the road and nobody seemed worried," Taylor said. "Everyone stayed on the road and kept driving."

After the sirens died down, Taylor continued driving and met her boyfriend.

The aftermath at Lambert

Sara Endicott, an MU graduate, and her boyfriend had scheduled a flight out of St. Louis at 7:15 a.m. Sunday. It was pushed back a little over two hours.

When Endicott and her boyfriend arrived at the airport for their flight, they saw the signs of repair.

"We saw a lot of windows out. There were some boarded up windows in Terminal 1, which is where I was," Endicott said. "There was still some shattered glass around the windows that hadn't been boarded up yet."

People at the airport were pretty nonchalant, said Endicott. She said the airport was running efficiently. She had used Lambert before and didn't notice much of a change after the storm.

"I was very impressed. Everything seemed pretty normal," Endicott said.

The airport closed for 24 hours after the storm, and 12 of 13 airlines resumed flights on Sunday, according to a news release from the airport. The airport is expected to resume a full flight schedule on Tuesday. The concourse that sustained the most damage is closed indefinitely.

Missourian reporter Jessica Perkins contributed to this report.

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