ST. LOUIS — Portions of suburban St. Louis waged a soggy cleanup effort Saturday after severe storms unleashed an outbreak of tornadoes across the region, damaging hundreds of homes and leaving tens of thousands without power.
No serious injuries were reported, an outcome a fire chief deemed "miraculous."
Friday night's storms spawned what the National Weather Service concluded was an EF3 tornado that carved a 22-mile path of destruction through parts of St. Charles and St. Louis counties, packing winds estimated at 150 mph. That twister's width at times spanned the equivalent of 10 football fields, meteorologists said.
Another EF3 was blamed for damage near Roxana, northeast of St. Louis in Illinois' Madison County, while another twister — this one an EF2, with winds about 115 mph — tore up parts of Illinois' Macoupin County. The EF2 tornado collapsed a section of the high school's roof in 3,400-resident Gillespie and sent bricks from the building raining down to the ground.
Yet despite all the damage, the weather spared serious human harm. In hard-hit St. Charles County, only eight people sustained minor injuries during the storm that made 71 homes uninhabitable and left more than 100 homes with slight to moderate damage, county spokesman Colene McEntee said. Those property figures don't include the unavailable number of structures damaged elsewhere in the region.
"With the level of damage and the fact there were no serious injuries or deaths, that's pretty miraculous. It really is," Cottleville Fire Protection District Chief Rob Wylie told The Associated Press on Saturday.
In the moments after the storm, Wylie said, "you see the normal things — branches and trees down — then structural components of houses, furniture, insulation.
"I thought, 'This is bad,' and we were very much convinced we were facing a mass-casualty situation," he said.
Wylie credited early warnings and locals heeding advice that they seek cover in basements with the lack of human harm.
"As we went house to house, no one was hurt," he said. "That was pretty incredible."
Dollar estimates of the extent of the storm's damage in the two states were yet to be tallied.
Ameren Missouri said more than 80,000 of the region's homes and businesses were without power as of Saturday afternoon. Ameren said it has requested help from hundreds of workers from other utilities.
Ameren Illinois said 15,000 homes and businesses were still without power from St. Louis' Illinois suburbs to the Champaign area.
The weather service said the storm also pounded the region with as much as several inches of rainfall that continued into Saturday morning, making cleanup and power-restoration efforts miserable before the precipitation finally relented by afternoon.
Gov. Jay Nixon was to tour the Missouri damage by air and foot on Saturday.