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In Missouri, Jefferson City Mayor Assesses Damage After Tornado Hits


Warning sirens went off in Jefferson City, Mo., late last night just before a violent tornado hit the city. Bacari Moody (ph) was in bed when his phone lit up with alerts.


BACARI MOODY: And the last one was emergency - tornado emergency, which meant it had been sighted. And literally as I had looked at my phone, I looked up, I mean, wind started going nuts. And then everything was green. And then my mom always told me, when things go green, it's a tornado.


LOLA BUTLER: I seen the sky was green. I seen all the lightning. All the rain came down.

CORNISH: Lola Butler (ph) was driving to be with her grandchildren.


BUTLER: But I didn't hear no wing - I guess 'cause my radio was on and my adrenaline was so - I just needed to get to my grandkids. That was the only thing on my mind. And I guess it just shut everything else down and out.

CORNISH: Drew Quinn (ph) took cover in a hallway in his house.


DREW QUINN: The best way that I can describe it is it was like a volume knob. You're starting from three or four and then you're slowly turning it up all the way to max. We just huddled together as a family with our dogs. It was about five minutes of pandemonium and then silence.

CORNISH: This was only one of a series of tornadoes that struck the region overnight. Three people were killed outside Golden City, Mo. Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin was up all night and spent the day assessing damage in her town. I spoke with her earlier today.

CARRIE TERGIN: I mean, there is extensive damage, not just in a small part of the city but from the south end of our capital city all the way through. You know, it really destroyed a large car dealership. And I think every car on the lot looks like it's upside down or on top of another car. The windows are out. I mean, it's - you almost can't believe it until you see it.

And then we have - I'm looking out now at City Hall at my junior high school, and the windows are completely out. I think every window's broken out. And then you go a little bit farther towards the river and you get to the very historic part of town of Jefferson City and some of the most historic homes on Capitol Avenue that are really irreplaceable with their history. Unfortunately, many of those were very severely damaged as well.

CORNISH: Thinking back to last night, how much warning did people have to find shelter?

TERGIN: You know, we knew in the forecast that there were storms in the area, that they could be severe. And we have the Missouri River right here, and we knew that it was going to crest at record-high levels. So yesterday we already declared a state of emergency and evacuated people. So the public has been on edge and paying attention to the weather, but we didn't anticipate that it would ever be to this level. We've never seen a tornado like this here.

But I will tell you that I saw a lot of comments about people calling neighbors, checking in on them - like, are you in your safe place, are you in your basement? - and just taking care of each other. And I think people really listened because when you see some of these homes and businesses, you know, if people had been in them, it would have been, you know, a lot worse. I believe that people really did heed the warnings. They listened to the sirens, and they took shelter.

CORNISH: With so many people who have lost homes staying in temporary shelters, can you talk about what the long-term plan could be for them?

TERGIN: Yes. I know that we have been very active in connecting people with shelters and their needs. And so we are working with our local agencies, with the Red Cross, with the United Way. There's been a lot of people that are ready to provide assistance and meals and whatever assistance, volunteer work that they can do. So it's hard, and it's sad, and it's scary. But we are going to get through this.

CORNISH: Mayor Tergin, are you from Jefferson City?

TERGIN: Yes. I'm a lifelong resident.

CORNISH: What's this like for you?

TERGIN: It is heartbreaking because, for one, it is my home. And - but also being the mayor, you feel like if others are hurting, you really feel that. Pain you just feel it. And we're at a revitalizing stage in our city. And these homes on Capitol Avenue, for example, there's been a lot of interest in revitalization there. And people have gone in and really fixed up these very historic homes. And we've been very proud of that project. And now, to see it in such disrepair is very heartbreaking.

But again, you know, we're OK. And all that really matters is that we're OK. You know, if we lose homes, if we lose businesses, we still have, you know, our community. We have our - we have each other. So I have no doubt this will make us a stronger community.

CORNISH: Carrie Tergin is the mayor of Jefferson City, Mo. Mayor Tergin, thanks for speaking with us.

TERGIN: You're welcome. Thank you for having me. And we appreciate any prayers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.