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Crews work to reopen St. Louis airport after storm

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Crews inspect damage to the roof of Concourse C at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Saturday, April 23, 2011, in St. Louis. Lambert Airport is expected to reopen Sunday, two days after a strong tornado caused significant damage at the St. Louis airport. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says the airport could be operating at 70 percent capacity starting Sunday but will reopen only if power is restored. An Ameren Missouri spokesman says power should be restored later Saturday. The airport director says one American Airlines 757 jet sustained significant damage, and four other American planes had minor damage. Five or six flights had to be diverted away from St. Louis when the storm hit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this aerial photograph, debris is strewn about a neighborhood Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Bridgeton, Mo., following a Friday-evening tornado in the area. St. Louis' main airport was closed for business Saturday while crews cleaned up after a tornado tore through a terminal, causing several injuries and sending people scurrying for shelter as plated glass shattered around them. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • and four other American planes had minor damage. Five or six flights had to be diverted away from St. Louis when the storm hit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A work crew repairs damage at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Saturday, April 23, 2011 after severe Friday-evening storms in St. Louis. An apparent tornado tore through a section of St. Louis' Lambert Field on Friday, lifting the roof off a concourse, injuring several people and forcing the airport's closure. Planes were diverted to other locations as emergency crews probed the debris for more wounded. Mayor Francis Slay said Lambert would be shut down "indefinitely." (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Johnny Andrews) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this aerial photo, a large hole is seen in the roof of Concourse C at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Saturday, April 23, 2011, in St. Louis. The National Weather Service confirms that it was a tornado that struck the airport causing several injuries and sending people scurrying for shelter as plated glass shattered around them and also caused damage in several St. Louis County communities. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this aerial photograph, debris is strewn around a damaged home Saturday, April 23, 2011, in Bridgeton, Mo., following a Friday-evening tornado in the area. St. Louis' main airport was closed for business Saturday while crews cleaned up after a tornado tore through a area, causing several injuries and sending people scurrying for shelter. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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ST. LOUIS >> American and Southwest airlines checked damage to planes and canceled flights on Saturday, a day after a tornado damaged the airport in St. Louis.

American said two planes received significant damage. Spokesman Ed Martelle said two others had lighter damage but should be flyable by the end of the day.

Crosswinds of 80 mph struck one plane that was taxiing in from a landing when the tornado hit. Martelle says that plane also was being checked.

Southwest Airlines Co. spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said one of its planes was damaged by a baggage loading conveyer belt that was pushed by the wind.

Southwest has canceled all St. Louis flights through late Saturday afternoon. American, which operates out of the heavily damaged main terminal, says it won’t fly out of St. Louis until at least Monday morning.

Crews worked through the night trying to clean up Lambert Airport, boarding up windows and sweeping up shattered glass.

The airport reopened Saturday night for a handful of arriving flights, and officials expected around 70 percent of the scheduled arrivals and departures to go on as planned early Sunday. The damaged concourse was likely to remain closed for up to two months.

In nearby suburbs, people wandered through neighborhoods where roofs had been torn off homes and multiple houses were flattened.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the airport’s director, Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, told reporters that the airport could reopen Sunday at 70 percent capacity, depending on the quickness in getting power restored and the ability of affected airlines to shuffle some of their terminal arrangements.

Ameren Missouri reported some 35,000 customers were without power Saturday morning.

National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said it was possible that a tornado that touched down near the St. Charles County town of New Melle was the one that ripped into the airport and apparently other parts of St. Louis County. If that was the case, the tornado sustained itself for roughly 30 miles.

Vivi Magana, 17, and her parents were trying to clean up the mess left at their Bridgeton home on Saturday. A huge tree in the front yard had been pulled out by the roots. An even larger tree in the back was split down the middle. A sliding glass door was shattered, and holes were in the roof.

Magana said the family was in the living room Friday night when her mother heard a roar of wind. As they rushed to the basement, Magana saw a lawn chair smash through the glass door. When the wind stopped, they emerged from the basement.

"Everyone was screaming to make sure we were all OK," Magana said.

Dozens of homes in the same neighborhood sustained significant damage. Roofers were going door-to-door, offering free temporary repairs. Insurance adjusters arrived in trucks to help their clients. Neighbors helped each other pull trees from roofs and pick up metal pieces, glass and splintered limbs from yards.

"It’s crazy — like something you’d see in a movie," 27-year-old Tim Kreitler said as he helped a neighbor clean up.

At the airport, roughly of the main terminal’s windows had been blown out, sending glass and rain into the building. Elsewhere on the property, trees were toppled and power lines downed, limiting access even hours after the storm passed.

But the airfield itself was fully functional, Hamm-Niebruegge said, perhaps allowing some airlines to shuttle in crews.

"We will not have departures out of here today, but we expect a good number of departures out of here tomorrow," Hamm-Niebruegge said. Slay added that it was hoped the airport would be up to full capacity by the middle of next week.

"This effort is going to take the cooperation and involvement of people of all levels of government," Slay said. "We are confident we will make this airport as good as it’s ever been in terms of its condition."

Hamm-Niebruegge and Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County’s executive, said they felt blessed there weren’t more injuries than the five victims who were taken to hospitals, all of them later treated and release.

"When you look at the devastation around, it really is a miracle there were no fatalities," Hamm-Niebruegge said.

A dozen passengers stayed in the terminal Friday night, given pillows and blankets, Hamm-Niebruegge said. Hundreds of travelers were delayed, although the storm’s affect was mitigated because it hit on a night when the airport is generally less occupied.

 

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