Metro-east cleans up after waves of severe weather

News-DemocratApril 3, 2014 

Many residents of Madison and St. Clair counties awoke to the sound of tornado warning sirens Thursday and received warnings again in the evening.

The first alarm went off at about 5:15 a.m. when radar indicated a possible tornado that heavily damaged the University City area in Missouri headed toward Granite City, Collinsville, Lebanon and Troy.

The warning remained in effect until 6 a.m. But just as it expired, the National Weather Service issued a second warning for the Scott Air Force Base area headed toward Shiloh, New Baden and Breese.

About 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service again issued a tornado warning.

Early reports Thursday indicated that residents in southeast Belleville lost siding to high winds and that trees were damaged.

Carol Honer, who lives with her husband Jim at 505 S. Missouri Ave. in Belleville, said a big chunk of her roof was torn off the back of her house and ended up wrapped around a tree in the front yard.

"My husband was doing his normal morning routing, drinking coffee in the family room in the basement when the sirens went off and I ran down the steps," Carol Honer said. "The wind blew for a while and it never seemed to amount to anything. So we went about our business as usual. Then the neighbor called and asked if we knew half our roof was in the front yard."

Upon inspecting their house, the Honers noticed that their chimney was destroyed and some of the bricks fell down, tearing off the fireplace doors and coming to a rest in the middle of the living room.

"There were bricks coming into our living room and we didn't hear a thing," Carol Honer said. "We usually come and go through the back door, so if the neighbor hadn't called, we still might not have noticed."

A few blocks away Jim and Vandora Elfrink said the wind knocked over a tree in their yard on East McKinley Street which smashed their Toyota Prius and then cut a slice 10 feet deep through the roof of their house.

In O'Fallon police said some utility poles were knocked down. Scott Air Force Base sent out a notice that non-essential employees shouldn't report to work until noon because power outages. Scott Elementary School near the base was also closed because its electricity was out.

According to Ameren, at about 6:30 a.m. there were pockets of customers without power in the Belleville, Collinsville, Fairview Heights, Granite City, Madison, Pontoon Beach, Millstadt, O'Fallon and Shiloh areas. Spokesman Brian Bretsch said at least five of the company's poles were snapped in the O'Fallon area.

Power was restored during the morning hours with small groups of residents getting their electricity back at a time. Some got power back when lines were reconnected. Others got it back as Ameren workers devised new ways to route power to affected areas through undamaged lines.

"One of the first things we do is to assess the situation, then we make a call to our distribution control group and we see how many customers we can get power restored through switching to another circuit which is fed through another power substation," Bretsch said.

Illinois State Police spokesman Calvin Dye Jr. said there was at least one serious accident on area interstates due to the weather and that some highway signs on Interstate 255 and 270 were knocked down by high winds.

"People need to be aware of the conditions and take extra caution," Dye said. "Water on the roads, visibility and wind can all be dangerous when people drive in stormy weather."

In addition to the threat of tornadoes Thursday, nickel-sized hail, torrential rains and flash floods were forecast. Friday is expected to be mostly sunny, calm and much cooler with a high of 55 and an overnight low of 33. Over the weekend skies are expected to be sunny to partly sunny with highs in the mid to upper 50s.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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