Tornado sirens wailed in the north and central parts of Cape County, including Jackson (but not the city of Cape Girardeau), at 3:41 a.m. Wednesday, April 5, as a tornado ripped through Bollinger County.
A “high-end EF-2 tornado” with winds up to 130 mph touched down southwest of Grassy on Highway 34, devastated the town of Glen-allen, skirted Marble Hill, hit Scopus and then dissipated as it neared Millersville, reported Mark Winkler, director of Cape County Emergency Management.
There were five confirmed deaths, numerous injuries and an unknown number of people missing.
The Bollinger County Sheriff’s Office reported the following deaths from the storm: Jimmy Skaggs, 37, Susan Sullivan, 57, Destinee Koenig, 16. Glenn Burcks, 62, and Michael McCoy, 18.
Cape County suffered little damage other than some debris and a power outage suffered by 71 Citizens Electric customers east of Millersville.
Early Wednesday morning, Bollinger County officials contacted Sean Mitchell, deputy chief of Jackson Fire Rescue. Mitchell activated the Homeland Security Response Team, consisting of personnel from the cities of Jackson, Cape and Sikeston.
Just after 5 a.m., seven HSRT members trained in heavy search and rescue were deployed into Bollinger County to go door-to-door, searching for survivors.
Mitchell was one of the first mutual aid responders on the scene. He set to work communicating with the Woodland Fire Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other local responders to figure out a plan of action and to set up a command post, according to a JFR Facebook post.
Mitchell served as incident commander. He was assisted by Jackson Fire Chief Jason Mouser and Captain Michael Gentry in the command center.
Other JFR personnel who responded to the disaster were Captain Ryan Davie, Captain Ron Kiplinger and Firefighters Matt Jahr, Nathan Vicenzi and Alex Schlitt.
Numerous agencies and departments came together to assess the path of the tornado and conduct primary and secondary searches of every affected structure.
During a command staff meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, it was reported that of those structures that had been searched, 32 had minor damage, 28 were affected by the storm, 16 had major damage and 13 were destroyed.
Other Cape County agencies that responded, included the Sheriff’s Office, which sent deputies to provide traffic control and additional law-enforcement presence; ambulances to assist with the injured; and the Cape County Highway Department, which sent heavy equipment to move debris.
The four counties of Cape, Bollinger, Scott and Perry have an organization that helps with disaster recovery. Pallets of food and water were sent into the affected areas.
Gov. Mike Parson toured the tornado damage and held a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the five individuals who lost their lives as well as all of those affected by this storm,” Parson said. “We are grateful for the efforts of our state and local response agencies, first responders, utility crews, and volunteer partners, and we will continue to use all state resources possible to assist throughout the recovery process.”
Parson had signed Executive Order 23-03 on March 31, in response to severe weather threats across the state. The order activated the Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan which is still in effect. It allows state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions in order to provide assistance.
SEMA regional coordinators were on the scene Wednesday, assisting local teams with the assessments as well as other needs and concerns. Those who experienced storm-related damage should report it to their local emergency management agency if they haven’t already.
AmeriCorps St. Louis established a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) at Woodland Elementary School, 18729 Jackal Dr., Marble Hill.
The Bollinger County Sheriff’s Office reported on Thursday, “Today’s cleanup operations went extremely well. I know that I speak for many when saying we are so grateful for the resources offered to our county. The outpouring support from all over the country, and especially from our own citizens within Bollinger County, is something that is truly amazing.”
The clean up and recovery efforts on Thursday and Friday were organized by AmeriCorps St. Louis. Volunteers met at the Woodland Elementary gym at 8 a.m. for their assignments. Volunteers contacted property owners before cleaning up private property. Anyone needing assistance cleaning up their property was asked to call 211.
Free portable showers were available for storm victims in the white trailer at the Woodland High School gymnasium entrance by the baseball field.
A temporary shelter was set up by the American Red Cross at the First Baptist Church, 502 Broadway St., Marble Hill. Identification and/or proof of residency was not required to be admitted.
Individuals and families were encouraged to bring the following items with them to the shelter:
• Clothing for a few days;
• Essential medication; and
• A child’s stuffed animal, blanket or other items for your children.
In addition to sheltering, Red Cross teams conducted damage assessments to determine the extent of the damage and community assistance needs. Teams also distributed emergency supplies to the impacted communities.
Approximately 80 Red Cross disasters workers were assisting in the response last Wednesday.
Anyone still needing assistance is asked to call the Red Cross at 1-800-Red-Cross or go to www.redcross.org.
Individuals who would like to assist the Red Cross in responding to community disasters are asked to make a financial donation.
This gives the Red Cross flexibility to directly address the needs of those affected. To donate, call 1-800 RED CROSS or donate online at www.redcross.org.
To volunteer to assist the Red Cross in responding to disasters, go to redcross.org.
United Way of Southeast Missouri (UWSEMO) has created a Bollinger County Recovery Fund. More than $10,000 in unused allocations have already been put into this fund.
UWSEMO created a similar fund immediately following the Perryville tornado in 2017. That fund distributed over $73,000 back to Per-ryville. Both Perry and Bollinger counties are in the footprint of United Way of Southeast Missouri.
How the funds collected for Bollinger County will be used will be determined by a committee and volunteers on United Way’s Community Investment Committee. Decisions will be based upon input from tornado victims, local social service employees and community leaders.
“United Way connects people with resources, and a tragedy like this is when our mission becomes even more critical,” said Elizabeth Shelton, UWSEMO executive director, “We encourage anyone who can help to give, with our promise that all donations will stay in Bollinger County to help these families.”
Recovery fund information can be found at https://-unitedwayofsemo.org/boco-recovery-fund, and donations can be made in many ways:
• Give online: https://bit.ly-/BOCOrecovery.
• Text BOCO to 26989.
• Give a credit card number over the phone to a United Way employee at 573-334-9634.
• Mail a check to the UWSEMO office at 1417D, N. Mt. Auburn Rd., Cape Girardeau, MO 63701.
• Give at The Bank of Missouri in Marble Hill.
Southeast Missouri Food Bank has resources available for Bollinger County residents affected by the tornado.
A mobile food distribution for storm victims was conducted at 11 a.m. Friday at First Baptist Church in Marble Hill. Besides food, size 5 diapers and dog food were available.
In addition, the food bank’s SNAP outreach coordinators can assist tornado victims with emergency benefit applications. Victims should call 573-471-1818 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As search and rescue efforts transition to recovery efforts, the public is asked to stay out of the impacted area and refrain from going door to door, as it is not safe.
Those interested in helping in search and recovery were asked to report to the VRC. Residents who need help should also report to the VRC.
SEMA remains in constant communication with its regional coordinators, state response partners, and local emergency management to assess resource needs and will continue coordinating with volunteer partners and faith-based organizations to provide assistance over the coming days.
Individuals with unmet needs should contact United Way 211. Call 2-1-1 or visit http://211helps.org.
For additional resources and information about disaster recovery in Missouri, including general clean-up information, housing assistance, and mental health services, please visit recovery.mo.gov.