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Violent tornado hits Jefferson City: ‘A lot of devastation,’ mayor says

A “large and destructive tornado” hit Jefferson City shortly before midnight Wednesday, cutting a swath of damage through part of the state capital, according to authorities.

The violent tornado was confirmed over the city at 11:43 p.m., moving northeast at 40 mph., according to the National Weather Service.

By 12:52 a.m. Thursday the storm had left extensive damage along Ellis Boulevard near U.S. 54, the Missouri Department of Public Safety reported on Twitter.

Jefferson City Police Department Lt. David Williams said during a televised briefing Thursday morning that there were no confirmed deaths, although he said there had been reports of injuries.

Williams said there were no confirmed reports of collapsed buildings. There have been several reports of damage to homes and businesses. The damage corridor appeared to extend along the south side of Jefferson City along Ellis Boulevard, U.S. 54 and Stadium Boulevard, according to Williams.

“We were very fortunate last night that we didn’t have more injuries than what we had, and that we didn’t have more fatalities across the state,” Gov. Mike Parson said during a press conference later in the morning.

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Parson asked that all non-essential state workers remain home due to the loss of electricity and damage to state government buildings.

Jefferson City police and other law enforcement were conducting door-to-door residential and business check to make sure no one was trapped or needed immediate medical attention. Crews also will evaluate the extent of the damage.

“We are seeing a lot of devastation on the ground, a lot of trees down, a lot of power lines down, apartments with roofs and walls missing,” Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin said on the Today Show. “It is pretty devastating and that is in the dark of night.”

Some residents in apartments had to be rescued shortly after the tornado hit late Wednesday. The mayor said she was not aware of anyone trapped inside their homes as had been reported overnight and said everyone known to be in danger had been accounted for. The injuries reported appeared to be minor.

About a three square-mile area of the city was hit the hardest. Parts of Jefferson City remained at risk of flooding, a hazard city officials had been preparing for before the tornado hit.

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The Kansas City Star

“We’re in good hands here and we are taking care of each, helping our neighbors and we are going to do this and we are going to get through this,” Tergin said.

The first emergency sirens were activated in Jefferson City at 11:10 p.m. and a storm rotation was spotted 20 minutes later, Williams said. The first reports of damage within Cole County occurred at 11:38 p.m. Tornado sirens were re-activated at 11:40 p.m. and emergency personnel first received reports of damage in the city at 11:47 p.m., Williams said.

Power lines were down and first responders were going door to door. Traffic was being diverted.

Officials advised the public to treat all downed power lines as live and to stay out of areas with damage.

Jefferson City has a population of about 43,000 people. About 5,000 customers in the city were without power at 1:20 a.m., according to the Ameren power company’s online outage map. More than 6,400 customers of Three Rivers Electric Cooperative in the city and surrounding area were also without power as of 1:40 a.m., according to the company’s outage map.

Speaking to CNN shortly after 3 a.m., Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin said the city had been preparing for flooding, including an emergency declaration and evacuations, before the tornado hit.

“We are already anticipating the flooding, we just didn’t anticipate this damage from the tornado,” she said.

There remained, however, a lot of damage in the city, with felled power lines and trees in many places. Some houses were missing roofs and walls. The tornado had left behind “a lot of devastation,” Tergin said.

The Red Cross of Greater Kansas City said in a message posted to Twitter that it has opened a shelter in Jefferson City at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, 1201 Fairgrounds Road.

Storms also hit other parts of the state Wednesday night.

In southwest Missouri, three people were killed in the Golden City area of Barton County after a “large and extremely dangerous tornado” was reported in the area.

The tornadoes Wednesday night came eight years to the day after Joplin was hit by an EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people in 2011.

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Kaitlyn Schwers covers breaking news and crime at night for The Kansas City Star. Originally from Willard, Mo., she spent nearly three years reporting in Arkansas and Illinois before returning to Missouri and joining The Star in 2017.
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