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St. Louis cleaning up after tornadoes whip through

Debris from scores of flattened homes littered neighborhoods in St. Louis on Saturday, as cleanup crews combed through the wreckage and airport workers attempted to shore up ravaged terminals after a fast-moving series of storms and tornadoes barreled through the city.

The storm system in Missouri formed Friday afternoon west of Jefferson City and tore into the St. Louis area that evening, said Scott Truett, a forecaster for the National Weather Service's office there.

A tornado that touched down in the town of Bridgeton, just northwest of the airport, brought winds of 166 to 200 mph, Truett said. A tornado of that strength "will take a house right off its foundation," he said.

Peggy Henderson said she and her husband, Ron, a retired St. Louis police chief, went down to the basement of their Bridgeton home when TV reports warned of a tornado only minutes away.

"We got to the basement when it hit. Ron pushed me onto the floor and covered me," she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Our ears popped. I could hear glass shattering. When it was over, I went up the stairs. I said, 'Baby, there ain't no upstairs.'"

The twister continued toward the airport, where it tore the roof off a main terminal, shattered windows, tossed vehicles and violently shook aircraft full of passengers, said Jeff Lea, an airport spokesman. "The wind tunneled through the concourse, blowing debris through the corridor as passengers took cover," he said.

Five people were taken to hospitals for minor injuries and dozens were treated at the airport, Lea said.

Hundreds of passengers were delayed and those stranded at the airport were given pillows and blankets. The airport reopened Saturday evening for a few arriving flights as crews continued to clean up, Lea said. Officials hoped to resume departures Sunday.

Truett said the National Weather Service was continuing to investigate dozens of severe weather reports, including damage from tornadoes, hail and wind. "It's very fortunate that nobody was seriously hurt or killed," he said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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