A “violent” Jefferson City tornado trapped people, ripped roofs off buildings, spurred multiple rescues, and caused major devastation throughout the Missouri community. There were multiple injury reports. Police said after 2 a.m. that there were no confirmed fatalities in Jefferson City at that time, however.
The twister hit Jefferson City as midnight loomed, and, in the early morning hours of May 23, 2019, the fire and rescue live scanner dispatch audio lit up with a flurry of rescues and calls. Some of the calls emanated from areas hotels, including a Best Western, and Snapchat video and photos began to flood social media, showing scenes of damage.
“A building has been destroyed,” came one of many scanner reports. However, authorities said in their first press conference that no buildings collapsed.
Lt. David Williams told journalists that there were injury reports. Lt. David Williams told journalists: “It’s a chaotic situation right now.”
“Right now we have no confirmation of any fatalities related to this storm,” he said. “We have identified several people who are injured because of this,” he said. “We are receiving multiple calls of people trapped in their homes…we do have debris on some homes.” He said it was too early to say how many injuries there were, but he said there were multiple injury calls. The governor later said 20 people were injured throughout the state, but no one was missing.
There were three tornado deaths near Golden City, though.
The first rotation was reported at 11:30. Damage was reported by 11:37. Inside the city limits, damage calls came in starting at 11:47 p.m. “Everything from debris from a rooftop into the street, uprooted trees, damage to vehicles, roofs of businesses. There are several businesses…we are trying to assess how much damage there is to the buildings. There are no reported structural damage as far as buildings collapsing, but it’s early to say.”
In an ominous sign when it comes to the degree of damage, Jefferson City Fire officials asked people to “pray for our citizens.” One rescuer said on the scanner that he was trying to evacuate a handicapped person throughout the “rubble.” Early reports said people were trapped in an apartment building.
“In Jefferson City, the state capital, there is extensive damage along Ellis Boulevard near Highway 54. Power lines are down,” wrote Missouri Public Safety. “Traffic is being diverted as @MSHPTrooperGHQ & local first responders go door-to-door. Consider all power lines live. Stay out of areas with damage. #MoWx.” The rescues continued for more than an hour and a half after the twister hit. People with minor injuries were being told them might need to “transport themselves” because of how busy rescuers were with more serious calls.
here’s what you need to know:
1. The Governor Confirmed That People Were Trapped in Jefferson City
Social media lit up with reports of severe damage and a tornado hit in Jefferson City not long after the Missouri Public Safety Department reported three deaths from a twister in nearby Golden City. The governor soon confirmed that people were trapped and Jefferson City had been struck by the tornado.
“Major tornados across state tonight, including Jeff City. We’re doing okay but praying for those that were caught in damage, some are still trapped – local emergency crews are on site and assisting,” Gov. Mike Parson wrote on Twitter.
Authorities described some citizens as the “walking wounded” on the scanner. Hospitals entered “disaster mode.” Jefferson City’s population is just over 42,000 people.
Later, the governor said, “Across the state, Missouri’s first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people.”
2. Fire Officials Asked People to ‘Please Pray for Our Citizens’
The message on the Jefferson City Fire Department’s website was succinct but urgent.
“All a large tornado has hit parts of Jefferson City,” the Jefferson City Fire Department wrote on Facebook. “All Jefferson City Firefighters have been called back and are beginning rescue operations. Please Pray for our Citizens.” People were trapped in elevators around 1 a.m.
“We have freed a man… heavy damage, lines down, trees down,” a rescuer said in the live scanner audio as fire rescuers raced to gas odor and extrication calls.
Fire and rescue officials earned praise on social media. “Listening to the scanner and kudos to Jeff city fire. Calm, organized, and on top of things. Prayers to all from victims to search and rescue teams. ????” a woman wrote on the Jefferson City Fire Department’s Facebook page.
3. Live Scanner Dispatchers Captured the Urgency From the Scene as Authorities Asked for ‘All Units Available
How many rescuers were needed? As many as possible.
“We have heavy damage here as well,” said rescue personnel on the scenner. “I need all personnel you can get a hold of,” a third rescuer said on the scanner. Rescuers were calling for “all units available.” You can listen to live scanner audio here.
“We have a confirmed injury,” yet another rescuer said at one point. “An elderly lady is trapped upstairs,” called in another. “We are evacuating people from a collapsed building,” came yet another urgent report from a rescuer in the live scanner audio. That was around 12:49 a.m.
4. Mutual Aid Was Called for & Some Declared the Scene ‘Catastrophic’
“Damage in Jefferson City is reported as catastrophic. Reports of mutual aid response, for fire and ems being requested ASAP to assist,” journalist Sara Dayley reported.
Others sounded a similar alarm.
“Please AVOID ALL TRAVEL into or out of Jefferson City right now! Significant Damage to Power Lines, Trees, Structures. There is debris ALL over the place. Now getting reports of a Structure Fire #MOwx #Missouri,” explained James Sinko, a Weather Channel meteorologist. He shared this unconfirmed photo:
5. Some Hotels in Jefferson City May Be Damaged
One scanner dispatch said an ambulance was needed at the Best Western hotel. A variety of scanner reports focused on local hotels.
People were being “extricated” from areas, scanner traffic indicated. Homeowners were reporting seeing sparks. A woman reported her mother was unable to breathe and her oxygen was off as the frightening calls added up. There was a report on the scanner of a woman possibly needing a leg amputation.
Over 11,000 were reportedly without power. The Jefferson City News Tribune reported that traffic lights weren’t working in some areas.
People were trapped in a hotel elevator. A person had a broken leg. And so forth. There were “multiple lines down,” and rescue personnel were trying to access areas of the city, according to the scanner dispatches.
“Multiple lines down. Let’s focus on injured patients trapped at this point,” a dispatcher said. Several heavy equipment operators were being requested by rescue personnel.
“MISSOURI: Large and destructive tornado over Jefferson City, moving northeast at 40 mph. TORNADO EMERGENCY for Jefferson City. Take cover now!” came the urgent alert before the tornado hit.
Radar showed the danger.
This story is being updated as more information is learned about the Jefferson City tornado impact.