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The St. Louis Tornado: One Year Later

April 22, 2012

By Jesse Bogan, St. Louis Dispatch

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April 22--A 12-year-old girl from Maryland Heights, her home badly damaged by the tornado that swept through St. Louis County one year ago, had to work on a science fair project in a cramped hotel room. When storms approach now, her little brother hides in the closet with headphones to drown out the noise.

A Berkeley resident, 70, is back in the house where she raised seven kids, but the home next door is still battered and littered with debris -- just one sign that the city has not fully recovered.

The part-time mayor in Moline Acres drives the residential streets in her city, encouraged by the people who have decided to rebuild.

On April 22, 2011, the strongest tornado to hit the St. Louis region since 1967 went on a 21-mile rampage -- and people today are still sorting through the messy trail.

The EF4 tornado carved a path of destruction that could be traced with nearly a straight line from Maryland Heights, to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and across the river to Granite City. Four other tornadoes also battered the area that night, but they were weaker and caused less damage.

Some residents in St. Louis County have rebuilt their homes better than before, adding on a new hot tub or an extended porch. Others walked away and didn`t come back. Then there are those stuck between both worlds, still haggling with insurance companies.

Government leaders, meanwhile, continue to slog through the cleanup, from clearing properties to navigating the rules for securing federal money.

Unlike the tornadoes in the Southeast and Joplin that killed nearly 500 people the following month, this storm luckily took no lives. That the "Good Friday" storm landed on Easter weekend caused many faithful to thank a higher power for being saved.

Lessons have been gleaned in the aftermath. Some responders weren`t prepared to shut off gas lines, and emergency contact lists weren`t current, according to a sampling of issues in a report by the St. Louis County Police Office of Emergency Management. In Ferguson, for example, there was poor communication among first responders, which caused them to answer many of the same calls rather than spreading their efforts.

The assessment concluded that cities in the county need to communicate and work together more efficiently. Also, it called for better training and communication among municipal departments, such as police and public works, or fire and parks departments.

More than 3,000 properties were damaged. So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pledged $3.6 million to help. That money goes to uninsured or underinsured homeowners and to cities to help with cleanup efforts.

Private insurance payouts have been far higher. Two insurers -- American Family and Shelter -- paid more than $10 million for property claims in St. Louis County. Missouri`s largest home insurer, State Farm, paid $47 million in home and auto claims across the state, with most coming from the St. Louis area.

Neighbors say they grew closer from sharing hardships and frustrations. Barbecues were planned for this weekend to mark the anniversary.

There will likely be discussions about events that are hard to explain. The fragile vase sitting unharmed next to a living room that blew away. The homes on one side of Diane Marie Drive in Maryland Heights that were heavily damaged, while the homes on the other side were spared.

"A lot of people were shocked to see it coming through an urban community like this," said Kevin Baker, an electrical engineer at Anheuser-Busch whose Bridgeton home was destroyed.

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(c)2012 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Story image: Damage at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport after the April 22, 2011 tornado. AP Photo

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