David Bell was in his truck on the side of the highway when a tornado hit Missouri’s capital of Jefferson City. As the winds shrieked around him, houses collapsed, transformers blew out in flashes and trees snapped.
The tornado caught sleeping residents off guard late Wednesday night, sending debris 13,000 feet into the air, the National Weather Service said.
Inside Bell’s truck, his windscreen shattered as he sat in stunned silence, watching through the gaping hole as debris flew. Part of a house was blown underneath his trailer, he said.
Bell had pulled over to the shoulder of Highway 54 with 44,500 pounds of soda in his trailer after the weather alert went off on his phone, not knowing he’d be in the path of the storm.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” he said. “I watched a bunch of transformers blown. Houses next to me completely obliterated. A house halfway underneath my trailer.”
During those few moments, he thought about his family and whether he’d see them again, he said.
“That storm picked me up and slammed me down like I was nothing but a soda can,” he told CNN’s John Berman Thursday.
“I’m still a little shook up, I ain’t gonna lie,” he said. “I saw signs flying. I saw signs lay over. And then all I could do is brace myself for the impact. It seemed like it lasted forever.”
The tornado damaged Bell’s truck, and he had to cut his seat belt using a pocket knife and climb out through the broken windshield. He suffered cuts to his face and elbows.
Due to the tornado and severe weather in Jefferson City last night we are asking that all non-essential state employees in the Jefferson City area remain at home on Thursday. We have damage to state buildings and power is down in some areas. Please be safe!
— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) May 23, 2019
In Jefferson City, the state capital, there is extensive damage along Ellis Boulevard near Highway 54. Power lines are down. 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 pic.twitter.com/cPWQi1tzCJ
— MO Public Safety (@MoPublicSafety) May 23, 2019
@MSHPTrooperF is in Jefferson City assisting @JeffCityPolice and Cole County Sheriff Dept. after tonight’s tornado. If you are NOT affected, please avoid the area. You will see several power lines down in these pictures. Treat them as though they are live. #MoWx pic.twitter.com/JHyNNfDX8F
— MSHP Troop F (@MSHPTrooperF) May 23, 2019
I’m so lost😖 pic.twitter.com/mcN7rn2Xze
— GEM. 💎 (@ixc_jazlynn) May 23, 2019
As of 4:00 a.m., Routes 50 and 54 through Jefferson City are open and most of the debris has been pushed to the side of the road. However, exits and many roadways within the city remain closed as damage evaluation and cleanup continues. #mowx #jeffersoncity
— MoDOT Central District (@MoDOT_Central) May 23, 2019
“It definitely gave me a new outlook on life,” he said, his voice shaking. “Very grateful that I’m alive. I should have been smarter and heeded the warnings. I’m just glad God was with me tonight.”
After a wrecker picks up his truck, he’ll go home to Eldon, Missouri, he said.
‘Mom, there’s a tornado’
Jefferson City resident Cindy Sandoval-Jakobsen had just taken her daughter to her room when the tornado hit, blowing out her windows and smashing a tree though her front door.
“The wind came. She said, ‘Mom, there’s a tornado,'” Sandoval-Jakobsen said of her daughter. “We got in the bathroom — that’s the only place that has no windows. When it hit — I’m from Southern California — it felt like an earthquake.”
First responders rushed into the house shortly afterward and she told them they were OK.
‘A balcony — it’s on my mom’s car now’
In a video filmed while surveying the destruction in the same city, Kayleigh De Rosa said parts of her house moved.
“So this is where we used to have a balcony — it’s on my mom’s car now. They’re completely totaled,” she said in the video. “This is our next-door neighbor’s. As you can see over here, the bedroom window and everything, it’s completely blown through, bricks everywhere. My house, the balcony is now on my mom and boyfriend’s cars.”
But her family was safe, she said.
‘Like one of those … natural disaster movies’
Aaliyah Caldwell was in bed when she got an alert on her iPhone that there was a tornado near her apartment. Shortly afterward, her window blew out.
While her apartment was not damaged, the one above it was destroyed, along with a nearby gas station and a fast-food restaurant, she said.
Walking outside “was like a horror film. Like one of those natural disaster movies,” she said. “I’m from St. Louis. This is my first tornado. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this. My friends and I thought it was a joke.”
Hours later, she was still in shock.
“Wow, did this really just happen to me?” she asked.
No fatalities have been reported in the city of about 43,000 people, police Lt. David Williams said early Thursday.
“We are still working very hard to identify any injured people and any places that we need to put more additional personnel,” he said.
Before the tornado hit, the weather service issued an urgent warning. “Violent tornado confirmed — shelter now!” it tweeted.
At least 29 tornadoes have been reported over the past 24 hours, mostly in Missouri and Oklahoma, the National Weather Service said.