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.”
The storm lifted the roof off Concourse C and sent plate glass flying everywhere. Four people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries after glass shattered as the storm hit, airport spokesman Jeff Lea said. An unspecified number of others were treated at the scene for cuts blamed on flying glass.
Passengers from at least two planes were stranded briefly on the Lambert tarmac because of debris but were later taken away by buses. An Air National Guard facility at the airport was reportedly damaged.
Pieces of twisted metal lay outside the terminal, the remains of a fierce line of storms that struck central and eastern Missouri. Unconfirmed tornadoes were reported in several counties in the St. Louis area, and thousands lost power.
In the suburbs of Maryland Heights and New Melle, storms caused damage to several dozen homes. There were no immediate reports of major injuries.
In New Melle, Mo., officials said nearly two dozen homes were damaged in the storm that tore up roofs and ripped off some siding, in one case leaving some playground equipment twisted in a heap.
Damage, possibly from a tornado, was also reported at several towns near the airport – Bridgeton, St. Ann, Ferguson and Florissant. Interstate 270 in that area was closed. Trees and power lines were down. A tractor-trailer was sitting on its end.
St. Charles County Sheriff’s Lt. Craig McGuire said there were early reports of at least 20 homes damaged in the county. “It was pretty wicked,” he said.
The utility company Ameren Missouri reported more than 46,000 power outages, with another 7,000 reported in Illinois.
At Lambert, installation and roofing tile was strewn about the inside and outside of one terminal. Large, plate-glass windows were blown out, at times left lying on the exterior walkways. A shuttle was teetering precariously from the top level of a parking garage.
Dianna Merrill, 43, a mail carrier from St. Louis, was at Lambert airport waiting to fly to New York with a friend for vacation. She said her flight had been delayed by weather and she was looking out a window hoping her plane would pull up. But the window suddenly exploded.
“Glass was blowing everywhere. The ceiling was falling. The glass was hitting us in the face. Hail and rain were coming in. The wind was blowing debris all over the place,” she said. “It was like being in a horror movie. Grown men were crying. It was horrible.”