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Tuesday Tornado Rips Through Perryville: Surveying the Damage

Tuesday night, a tornado ripped through the northwest corner of the city of Perryville. Warning sirens shook residents out of their beds, and winds ripped houses off of their foundations. With a path of 13 miles, the storm caused more than 10 injuries, 1 fatality, and over 60 families lost nearly all of their belongings. The main damage was on Moore Drive, north on U.S. 61.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Perryville Mayor Ken Baer first addressed the storm damage by giving thoughts and prayers out to families.

"Some of them have walked away with the clothes on their back, literally,” Baer said. “And our first effort is to care for these families."

Baer said their next priority is assessing the damage. Roads have been cleared of debris and are now drivable, with the exception of north U.S. 61. Baer said the biggest hazard currently is downed power lines. Despite the long road ahead, Baer assures that Perryville is a strong community.

"We have a work ethic that is as good as anywhere, maybe even better,” Baer said. “With our faith-based community and our work ethic, by the grace of God we will make this go away and hopefully in very short order."

Several officials spoke on behalf of their agencies involved in the emergency response to Tuesday night's tornado.

Bill Jones, the assistant fire chief for the Perryville Fire Department, said they were called at 8:04 p.m. Two fire crews quickly responded to vehicles overturned on Interstate 55, but they didn't get too far before more reports started rolling in.

"Prior to getting just a couple of blocks from the firehouse, we were then also notified of severe structural damage to houses on U.S. 61 near the Moore Drive site," Jones said.

They sent a crew to I-55 and another one to U.S. 61. Jones said his crew was met by the Perryville Police Department, who informed them of two people trapped in a residence. They were rescued and considered walking-wounded. But getting around the area was a feat in itself.

"We had power lines down in grass areas,” Jones said. “We had power lines down in the water-filled ditches we had to cross."

They currently do not have an exact count of power lines down, but they know plenty of houses were not intact.

"The first three houses we came upon on Moore Drive were destroyed,” Jones said. “The next three houses were completely destroyed."

Out of the injuries at the U.S. 61 scene, 12 people were walk-in treated, and released from a local hospital.

Not everyone was so lucky.

"Unfortunately, we did have one fatality, and the fatality came off of the I-55 location," Jones said.

The name of the victim was later released as 24-year-old Perryville resident, Travis M. Koenig.

Search and rescue teams worked overnight after the first storm front, and after a second cell came through at 3 a.m., responders called off a 90 percent completed search.

Search teams from St. Louis joined forces with them on a secondary search at daybreak.

Jones admitted, "No missing persons reports have been received. We've accounted for everyone that we set out to account for."

Justin Wheetley from the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported the crashes on I-55. He said the majority of cars came from a salvage yard off of I-55. Highway patrol provided man power in securing roadways to allow efficiency and safety in clean up.

"As far as U.S. 61, our officers are on post there,” Wheetley said. “That will be reevaluated tomorrow."

Kyle Schott, regional director of the Catholic Charities of Southeast Missouri, spoke about volunteer management.

"There's going to be plenty of volunteer opportunities,” Schott said.” However, at this time, we would suggest that spontaneous volunteers not show up until we have the organization available to send them to specific areas."

He said the most important thing to donate is money to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities of St. Louis, and to refrain from donating clothing. The Red Cross closed shelter Thursday after breakfast, though a multi-agency resource center may be set up soon for those affected.

Residents continue sawing away at their neighbors' downed trees, and will be picking up rubble for quite some time. But for them it's a call to duty as part of the Perryville community.