The Good Friday tornado that cut a 22-mile swath of destruction across the St. Louis area caused more than $10 million in damage to the Missouri Air National Guard base at Lambert Airport, according to preliminary damage assessments.
“Sixteen of our 25 buildings sustained some type of damage,” said Air Force Col. Kathleen Hancox, commanding officer of the 131st Mission Support Group. “The newer buildings on the south side of the base sustained the most damage.”
Hancox said damage assessments at the base began as soon as the storm had passed the night of April 22.
“We went through all the buildings with security teams and civil engineers to get a snapshot of exactly what our problems were,” she said. “At this point, to fix everything, it will take a year and cost more than $10.3 million.”
Nearly 150 civilian and military personnel are involved in the cleanup and recovery efforts at the base, which is headquarters to the Mission Support Group, the 131st Bomb Wing, the 571st Air Force Band and several other units.
The 46-acre facility was a beehive of activity Tuesday, with crews removing downed trees, collecting building debris and moving offices from damaged buildings to those that sustained little or no damage.
“We are 75 percent moved from the south side of the base to the north side and we expect to be between 75 and 100 percent operational no later than the end of the day Sunday,” Hancox said.
In addition to continued rainfall, cleanup crews were being hampered by the fact that the storm knocked out electrical power and communications at the base.
“As we stand up electrical power in the existing buildings we are also enabling telephones and computer networks,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Bishop, a systems administrator with the 131st Communications Flight. “The damage was pretty extensive, so we’ve got eight people pretty much working around the clock to get things up and running. It’s been a challenge.”
Despite the many challenges still facing Air Guard officials, Hancox and others believe the recovery efforts at Lambert have been nothing short of remarkable.
“I could not be more proud of this recovery team,” Hancox said. “They are each giving 150 percent and doing what they have to do.”
“Considering the circumstances I think everything has gone pretty smoothly,” added Bishop.
Taking into consideration the pace of cleanup and recovery and that no one was seriously injured in the storm, Hancox said the Air Guard is planning a “day of celebration” on Sunday.
“We are going to celebrate the can-do spirit if the 131st Bomb Wing,” she said. “The 571st Air Force Band is going to perform and it’s going to be an opportunity for us to thank everyone who has put their heart and soul into this mission.”
By Bill Phelan
Unit Public Affairs Representative
Missouri Air National Guard