Victims of deadly Southeast Missouri storms survey damage, clean up

Thursday, March 1, 2012
The home of 89-year-old Virgil Mowery was destroyed Wednesday when and early morning storm tore through the Oak Ridge area. Mowery, who was asleep when the storm hit, was taken to Southeast Hospital to be treated for injuries. (Laura Simon)

Click here for a map of preliminary storm reports in Southeast Missouri and the region

Gov. Jay Nixon will tour Southeast Missouri storm damage in Puxico and Oak Ridge today as people in those towns and others around the region recover from a strong storm system that rolled through early Wednesday.

The storms caused one death and several injuries as they barreled through the region during the pre-dawn hours.

Hail, strong winds and power outages were reported, with some structure damage in the Oak Ridge area. Residents of Oak Ridge reported the storm came through shortly before 4 a.m.

Parents, students and faculty help clean up the ball field area at Oak Ridge Wednesday morning. The T-ball field, concessions and bleachers were ripped apart during Wednesday morning's storms. (Laura Simon)

One man died as a result of his injuries from a portion of the storm that hit Puxico. Stoddard County Coroner Aaron Mathis confirmed that Mark Champlin, 50, of Puxico was pronounced dead at 7:35 a.m. Wednesday after being airlifted to Saint Francis Medical Center.

Champlin was "pretty much dead on arrival," Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton said.

Cape Girardeau County Emergency Management director Dick Knaup said those with the National Weather Service did not officially confirm damage in northern Cape Girardeau County was caused by a tornado, but they told him they were confident it was.

Word on the official cause of damage will likely come early today, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.

Meteorologist Ryan Presley said four survey teams were out assessing damage in the areas of Missouri and Illinois under the jurisdiction of the Paducah office Wednesday. A team assigned to Southeast Missouri began its survey in Madison County and was working its way east through Bollinger County and into Cape Girardeau County on Wednesday afternoon, Presley said.

At least five buildings were severely damaged in Oak Ridge, Knaup said. Some houses were lifted off their foundations by the wind and set back down. He noted there is no siren system in Oak Ridge.

By his count at 9 a.m. Wednesday, around 75 homes in the area had at least some damage. An apparent path of the storm was visible from west of Route B to an area along the northern side of Route E east of town.

Damage was most severe about one mile west of town along Route E. An 89-year-old man, Virgil Mowery Sr., who lives along the road, was injured after his roof was blown off. He was taken to Southeast Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and bruises.

Mowery's daughters and grandsons were surveying the damage Wednesday morning. The roof was blown across the highway into a neighbor's yard, where it lay in pieces. One of Mowery's hats hung from a section of the roof partially driven into the ground by the force of the wind.

A neighbor helped Mowery from his house a few minutes after the storm passed. Blood was visible on the house's carpet where Mowery had gone from door to door looking for a way out. What saved him from further injury was his mattress, said his daughter, Connie Mowery. The wind tore the roof off his bedroom and caused all its contents to shoot around the room, she said, and knocked her father over. His mattress landed on top of him.

"It turned his bedroom into a mixing bowl," said Knaup after he surveyed the damage Wednesday morning. "There had to have been a guardian angel looking out for him."

Carson Hahs, 6, uses a magnetic strip to pick up nails outside his grandparents' barn Wednesday. An early morning storm left a path of destruction in the Oak Ridge area. (Laura Simon)

The couple living in the home where Mowery's roof landed across the highway were awakened by the sound of the wind just before the storm hit. Judy Sanders and her husband Richard grabbed their three granddaughters, ages 5, 7 and 8, and headed for the basement.

As she entered the first bedroom in the front of the house to retrieve one of the girls, glass from the window shattered and blew into the room, she said. The couple and the children made it safely downstairs. At first light Wednesday morning they saw the extent of the damage. Debris was strewn about the yard and broke most of the home's windows. Parts of the home's roof and siding were also missing.

"We found his curtains on the porch," Judy Sanders said, pointing toward Mowery's house more than 100 yards away. Pieces of shredded pink insulation covered uprooted trees between the two homes.

Sanders recalled storms last spring that hit near Daisy, just down the highway from Oak Ridge.

"I was so afraid then when it hit all around us," she said. "I kept saying we were lucky, but we weren't as lucky this time."

A large shed on Sanders' property was blown away by the storm.

The American Red Cross provided food and water to residents and emergency workers in Oak Ridge, according to a news release issued Wednesday afternoon by the agency. Disaster teams were also sent to affected areas to assess the extent of the damage and determine the level of response required from the agency.

Classes in Oak Ridge were canceled Wednesday, according to school superintendent Gerald Landewee. Large air-conditioning units were blown off the high school, causing roof damage as they tumbled across.

All of the school district's buildings are on one campus on the north side of Route E. Fencing, bleachers, a concession stand and baseball and softball fields were severely damaged, Landewee said. Debris littered the campus and Landewee reported that other school buildings had minor roof damage.

Landewee was hopeful classes could resume today. District championship basketball games scheduled for tonight at the high school were moved to Saxony Lutheran High School.

"I'm grateful the kids were home safe for this," Landewee said. Students were in school when an "inland hurricane" in May 2009 caused extensive damage in the area.

Guard activated

Gov. Jay Nixon announced plans Wednesday afternoon to tour storm-damaged areas of the state today, including Puxico and the Oak Ridge School District. A news release from Nixon's office stated he would meet with local and state emergency management officials at 12:30 p.m. in Puxico and 2:50 p.m. in Oak Ridge. Nixon declared a state of emergency Wednesday in response to the severe weather and activated the Missouri National Guard to aid with recovery efforts throughout the state.

A shed and barn were severely damaged on Dorothy Hahs' farm on Route B west of Oak Ridge. Her family and some friends, including several Oak Ridge High School students, helped in gathering large sections of metal from her yard and surrounding fields.

The storm knocked out power to residents in Oak Ridge, Pocahontas and Fruitland.

Crews from several electric companies were in the area fixing downed lines and restoring power before noon Wednesday.

Near Puxico, several homes were flattened. Residents of Bell City and in the Morley area also reported damage. People in Bell City said they suspected a tornado caused damage to at least six homes on the south side of town when the storm came through around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. There were no reported injuries.

In Cape Girardeau and Jackson, tornado sirens sounded after a tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service around 4 a.m. Damage in those areas were limited to reports of a few downed tree limbs.

In Bollinger County, the sheriff's department said a quarter-mile debris path was observed by trained spotters near County Road 370 and some debris was seen on County Road 356. Trees were blown down on Route JJ, where a shed was flipped over, and half of a barn was damaged on Highway 72 near the Cape Girardeau and Bollinger County line.

Near Benton, Mo., in Scott County, the start of school in the Kelly School District was delayed until 9 a.m. Wednesday due to a power outage. Several schools in Southern Illinois also canceled classes because of power outages.

A full listing of area damage reports is available online through the National Weather Service Paducah office at and at

Staff writer Scott Moyers contributed to this report.


Pertinent address:

Oak Ridge, MO

Puxico, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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