Severe weather rattles area; section of Highway 25 in Stoddard County to be closed until 5 p.m. today

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A mile and a half of Highway 25, between the Stoddard County Road 114 and Route H, will be closed until at least 5 p.m. today, after Saturday's storm knocked down six utility poles along the road just south of Dexter, Mo.

It was the most significant damage reported by 10 p.m. Saturday after a line of severe thunderstorms swept through the Southeast Missouri, along with winds that reached 50 miles an hour at times.

Scattered power outages, broken power lines and tree limbs were reported. Three 50-passenger planes were sent to Cape Girardeau Regional Airport when they could not land in St. Louis. The high winds also damaged a hangar door, according to airport manager Bruce Loy.

On Highway 25, the electric lines that broke fell on two cars, trapping the drivers, according to John Prance, emergency management director for Stoddard County.

"We don't know if it was straight-line winds or a small tornado," he said. "The National Weather Service thinks it was straight-line downburst that caused the problem."

He said six volunteer emergency responders for the county reported to the scene, as did a Missouri State Highway trooper and two Stoddard County sheriff's deputies.

Both of the women driving the cars used their cell phones to call for help. One woman got out of her car but was not hurt.

"She was brave enough that she wiggled around the wires and got around that jam," Prance said. "She was being advised by the 911 dispatcher to stay put and don't move, but she decided she was going to get out."

The other driver stayed in her car until AmerenUE shut down power to the area, which affected more than 1,100 households.

The National Weather Service issued a series of watches and warnings throughout the late afternoon and early evening, including a tornado watch just after 4 p.m., a severe thunderstorm warning and a high-wind advisory.

High winds are expected to continue through the early morning today.

Three 50-passenger Embraer commercial air carriers were diverted from St. Louis to Cape Girardeau Regional Airport just after 1 p.m. because of high winds. Passengers from two of the planes were allowed to disembark and reboard. The plane that kept its passengers aboard was allowed to take off first, just before 5 p.m. The second plane was also able to get airborne, but the third plane had to ride out the storm on the runway, Loy said.

The bad weather may be good news for the airport's budget, since 1,600 gallons of fuel were sold to the planes.

Capt. Jeff Crites of the Cape Girardeau Fire Department said no one appears to have been injured as a result of the weather, though his crews were busy with 10 calls between 5 and 9 p.m., responding to scattered power outages and "a couple traffic accidents that weren't weather-related."

He said an ambulance was dispatched to the airport at 1 p.m. to stand by while the three passenger planes were waiting to take off. The ambulance returned to the fire station just after 6 p.m.

Joel Evans, Scott County emergency operations manager, said power outages were reported in Chaffee and Oran, but no damage was reported. He said he knew of one motor vehicle accident caused by the weather but did not have details on whether anyone was injured.

Loy said he spent much of Saturday evening at the airport, helping stabilize a large door at Hangar 10, and ended up "cold and wet."

High winds pulled the door and damaged a roller. He said the storm was unusual.

"You knew it was coming, but, man, I've never seen wind and rain like that," he said.

Nicole Thieret, spokeswoman for Missouri Department of Transportation District 10, said road crews will make sure that Highway 25 will be safe for travel before it is reopened.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

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