ST. LOUIS – Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the Good Friday tornado that touched down in St. Louis on April 22, 2011.
The EF4 tornado destroyed hundreds of buildings that day. It also left behind major damage at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
There were several injuries, but no one was killed.
A report released by NOAA and the National Weather Service raised serious questions about what happened at the airport in the moments before the storm. There are those who say, poor planning, poor execution and communications shortfalls could easily have cost hundreds of lives.
Following the storm investigators from NOAA and the National Weather Service conducted an assessment of the events of that evening coming to some startling conclusions.
The report states, ‘preparedness activities and action plan procedures for the Lambert St. Louis International Airport were minimal and in-effective for this event.’ The report goes on to say the airport authorities, along with the airlines, failed to give any warning to passengers about the imminent threat of the tornado.
It turns out the airport operations center was completely unaware there was a tornado heading straight for the airport.
This despite the fact the National Weather Service warned of a confirmed, damaging tornado moving in that direction some 34 minutes before it arrived.
When airport authorities finally recognized the danger… just seconds before the tornado hit… they abandoned the operations center and took shelter without making any announcement about the warning leaving everyone else in the terminal to fend for themselves.
Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge does not agree with the NOAA report. She says the findings that the airport was in-effective during the evacuation are extreme.
She does acknowledge that operations center staff failed to make the tornado warning announcement over the airport public address system. But defends her staff saying the tornado came up quickly and by the time they realized it was going to hit the airport, there was only time for the staff to seek shelter.
That has since been fixed as part of some significant improvements that have been made since the tornado. They have also constructed a second, underground operations center for severe weather events so the staff can continue to function if this ever happens again. Other improvements include many more weather radios throughout the terminal and better training for personnel.
Most importantly, the airport has entered a growing partnership with the National Weather Service that has Lambert very close to becoming the first official ‘Storm Ready’ International Airport in the United States.