UPDATE: Crews work to restore power; clean-up from heavy storm continues

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | 6:37 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2014
A severe line of thunderstorms hit Columbia late Monday night, taking down trees and power lines across the area.

COLUMBIA — Usually when there's a storm coming, Barb Vigil puts her car in her detached garage. When she awoke Tuesday morning, though, and saw a large tree had collapsed on top of her garage at 1521 W. Broadway, and she was glad she hadn't been as careful as usual.

A line of powerful thunderstorms rolled through Columbia about 11:30 p.m. Monday, cutting power to thousands and causing damage to trees and some homes. The Columbia Fire Department responded to more than 40 calls between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Scott and Sherre Mullins live down the street from Vigil on Atkins Drive. On Tuesday morning, they walked around their neighborhood surveying the destruction.

"It looks like a war zone," Sherre Mullins said. The night before, they had moved to their basement after seeing numerous trees around their house "blowing to the ground."

"I don't care what they say — it was like a tornado," Scott Mullins said.

More than 14,000 Columbia Water and Light customers were without power overnight Tuesday. Boone Electric Cooperative said it had 3,800 members without power overnight.

Much of the damage was concentrated on the west side of Columbia, and after enduring a night of destruction, residents woke up Tuesday morning to pick up the pieces.

Bill Burnham, who lives on the 1100 block of West Stewart Road, said he was on his front porch about 11:30 p.m. when the weather ushered him inside. He said a lightning bolt struck a tree in front of his house. In addition to knocking branches onto power lines, the impact caused a smaller limb to land on his Ford pickup and shatter the front driver's side window.

"I saw a bloom about that big," he said, using his hands to show the size of the lightning bolt. "Sparks flew everywhere until everything got shut off."

At nearby at 410 Crestland Ave., Dorsey Ragland grimaced as she inspected the damage a fallen tree had done to power lines, gutters and siding on the north and west sides of her house. She expressed regret, not for her house, but for the trees.

"A lot of mature trees are going to suffer," Ragland said. "Those trees have been here for many, many years."

South of Ragland's home, on the street outside of 505 Crestland Ave., the smell of split pine trees filled the air.

One of the most ostentatious displays of the wind's power was visible in the backyard of 603 Crestland Ave. A massive pin oak had fallen on the north side of Bob and Dorothy Pittman's house. The tree's trunk is bigger than most people can hug around, and Bob Pittman said the tree was planted about 1965.

"We could have been crushed," he said. 

Further to the west were more problems. Kaleb Gadson of 2801 W. Broadway said that in addition to the common debris of sticks, leaves and branches, the falling power lines had nearly torched his house.

"All lines are down. Poles snapped in half. Our house caught on fire," Gadson said. "A line hit the top of our roof and lit it up briefly, but the rain put it out."

On West Boulevard, a swing set was upturned and lying on its side in Steve and Lisa Gunn's backyard. It was surrounded by splintered trees, broken boards and lawn furniture, destroyed and scattered. The swing set’s green plastic slide and tan metal poles had destroyed portions of their fence.

They've lived in the house for 26 years, Lisa Gunn said, and in that time, she's never seen storm damage this serious.

The littered tree branches blocked some streets. And while the cleanup continued, outages affected stoplights, including those along Stadium Boulevard and West Broadway, further stymieing traffic.

The power outages halted the opening of some facilities around town. Summer enrichment at Fairview Elementary School was not held Tuesday because the school was without power. The School District's administration building was also without power and opened late.

Columbia Water and Light said most of the outages were caused by trees falling on transmission and distribution lines. Six 80-foot poles that broke on Fairview Road between Worley Street and Broadway were the main causes of continued power outages Tuesday morning.

By 10 p.m. Tuesday, more than 6,000 Columbia Water and Light customers were still without power. There was no estimate on restoration because of the complicated nature of the outages, the utility said in a statement. But power had been restored to all Boone Electric Cooperative customers by Tuesday evening.

Mimi and Greg Perreault checked on their neighbors before tending to their own clean-up operation, as did many residents in wind-tossed areas.

"Everyone's OK, and that's all that matters to us," Greg Perreault said. "We're thankful it was just stuff."

Although many Columbia residents were shocked by the damage left behind, the damaging line of thunderstorms wasn't anything out of the ordinary to meteorologists.

Jim Kramper of the National Weather Service in St. Louis said the thunderstorm complex wasn't uncommon for this time of the year. After instability caused by the 90-degree heat Monday afternoon, a cold front began moving south in the evening.

"They were just a normal, summertime thunderstorm complex," Kramper said.

The storms started near St. Joseph about 7 to 8 p.m. and drifted to the east and southeast across central Missouri. Most of the heavy winds had subsided in mid-Missouri by midnight.

The storms didn’t reach the St. Louis area until about 1:30 a.m., and by then the winds had weakened to 40 to 50 miles per hour, Kramper said.

Rainfall varied across the area. Kramper said most areas received about a half inch to an inch of rain.

There was a continued chance of storms on Tuesday throughout southern Missouri. Most of central Missouri will remain dry through Thursday, with a chance of storms returning Thursday night.

Rachel Jelinek, William Schmitt, Christian Fellwock and James Nosek contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.


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