Lives interrupted

Sunday, September 24, 2006
Residents of Crosstown, Mo., sifted through the rubble for personal belongings Saturday after a tornado tore through the town the day before. (Don Frazier)

CROSSTOWN, Mo. -- Glenn Noe's mother, Wanda Noe, used to have a home in Crosstown.

Not anymore.

Now that home is reduced to rubble. The only thing left is a concrete foundation.

Glenn Noe originally thought his mother had been home that afternoon. Luckily she wasn't.

On Saturday, Wanda Noe stayed with family, while other members of her family sorted through the debris of her former home in the east Perry County community.

Family photographs, keepsakes -- all gone.

A few houses down the street, Harold Corse and his wife, Laura, were home when the atmosphere became destructive in Crosstown late Friday afternoon.

"We didn't hear anything," Harold Corse said. "Then out back I could see the treetops floating, and that's when I knew it was a tornado."

Twenty-four hours later, Harold Corse would find himself standing in the open air in what used to be a library. The books were half-buried under bricks and assorted pieces of his home's second story, the pool table in the next room barely visible under a pile of debris, his back yard full of sheets of metal, assorted junk and bare trees.

Corse had dreams of living out his life in this house, sitting on the porch relaxing with his wife near his in-ground pool. Harold Corse and his wife have lived here for 20 years.

Now those dreams have been interrupted. And for the entire eastern Perry County community of Crosstown, life has been interrupted.

The last day of summer was hard on Crosstown.

On Friday afternoon, a storm ripped through the community and destroyed 62 homes. Seventeen more sustained major damage, while another 23 received minor damage, according to a preliminary assessment. Six people were taken to the hospital in Perryville, but no one was killed.

When daylight broke Saturday morning, Crosstown looked like a war zone. American Red Cross volunteers and staff and emergency service crews swarmed the area, caring for residents and helping with the cleanup.

The Southeast Missouri chapter of the Red Cross served lunch to 400 people Saturday, said executive director Cheryl Klueppel. Emergency service and Red Cross operations were run from the basement of the roofless Zion Lutheran Church.

The small community was one of several in Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and western Kentucky hit hard by storms Friday night and Saturday morning. Throughout the day Saturday the National Weather Service's Paducah, Ky., office was busy assessing damage in those areas.

On Saturday, the National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes had touched down in Massac County, Ill. -- an F3 near Metropolis -- and in Daviess County, Ky. -- an F1 near Sawmill Road. The storms dumped 5 to 7 inches of rain in most areas, causing massive flooding, said NWS meteorologist Rachel Trevino.

Weather service personnel were also in Jackson County, Ill., and determined an F2 tornado damaged about a dozen homes near Murphysboro. They won't make it to Crosstown to survey the damage until today, so the storm isn't officially being called a tornado yet.

The damage on the ground tells the story, though. Cars turned upside down, sheet metal wrapped around trees, utility poles snapped.

David Hadler has no doubt the storm that struck Crosstown was a tornado. He was standing on his front porch, looking toward the west as the storm approached. Only he and his dogs were at home at the time.

"I stood out there and could just see the clouds all coming together," he said. "I ran inside and put my dogs in the basement. When I came back out, I heard the roar and I knew it was a tornado."

Hadler said he saw the funnel and debris turning in circles in the air.

"You always expect it to happen somewhere else," he said.

In March, it did happen somewhere else -- St. Mary, also in Perry County.

Perry County emergency management director Jack Lakenan said having two devastating tornadoes in the same year has been hard on Perry County. Before this year, the last time a tornado hit the county was in 1996, he said.

Emergency responders from agencies throughout the area, including Cape Girardeau and Scott County, helped with the recovery effort that began Friday night, Lakenan said. "Just about everybody sent assistance or volunteers," he said.

Lakenan said police sealed off the area Friday night, while emergency responders and volunteers worked to evacuate victims. Roads into Crosstown were reopened Saturday morning.

Those who had nowhere else to go, 18 in all, were sent to hotels in Perryville, Klueppel said. The Southern Baptist Convention assisted in providing meals for the residents of Crosstown on Saturday, she said. The Red Cross also set up a shelter for victims of flooding in Lilbourn, Mo., she said. Klueppel said the Red Cross will soon set up a service center in the Crosstown area to assist residents with any needs. The agency also needs donations to help assist victims, she said.

The state will also be involved soon. Saturday night Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency in areas severely impacted by the storms.

The residents of Crosstown will likely need a lot of help as they try to recover from the devastating storm. But for now, Harold Corse and his neighbors are just trying to pick up the pieces, without knowing what comes next.

"We have no plans yet," Corse said, wading through the debris of his library. "When the sun comes up in the morning and we're awake, we'll do something then."

335-6611, extension 182

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