Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano toured Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Thursday with County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. The officials surveyed damage from a tornado that struck Lambert Airport during the Good Friday storms.
“It’s horrendous,” Napolitano said of the destruction she surveyed. “I’d have to say it’s miraculous there was no loss of life, especially after what we’ve seen happen in the South.”
Estimates are that subsequent tornadoes killed more than 130 people in Alabama alone. There have been deaths in Arkansas and Mississippi as well.
Napolitano also participated in the Great American Shakeout while visiting Carnahan High School of the Future. The earthquake drill involved 2.8 million people in an eight-state area.
Six teams of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are working with municipalities and assessing damage in the St Louis area, Napolitano said.
Dooley said his understanding is that 2,471 homes in the county were damaged by the Good Friday storms, and 185 of those homes are uninhabitable.
“I want the federal government to declare St. Louis County a disaster area,” Dooley said after the press conference. “That would lessen the financial burden of cleaning up and rebuilding our community.”
Regardless of the federal declaration, Dooley said the county will share the burden with municipalities that have been affected.
Officials will wait to see FEMA assessments before declaring whether the greater St. Louis area qualifies as a disaster area.
“We have had a record-breaking tornado season,” Napolitano said. “We’ve had 620 tornadoes touch down.”
She said President Barack Obama is being kept informed on federal officials’ actions and damage assessments.
Dooley said the important thing is that people already have started the recovery process.
“The police, the fire departments are helping, cities are helping, neighbors are helping neighbors,” Dooley said. “Everybody has pulled together to make this event not an event.”
Napolitano said that despite widespread storm destruction in the South, including Arkansas and Alabama, there would be no delay in the federal government action in the St. Louis area.
“We’re going to staff up as quickly as ever,” the Homeland Security director said. “The assessment is the most time-consuming part of the process. It will not tarry long in the offices of federal government.
“We are helping cities and counties get back to normal,” she said.
Slay said he appreciated Napolitano’s visit and that six FEMA teams are assessing damage.
Meanwhile, Lambert Airport hums with activity as usual, despite a large number of plywood sheets that cover areas where glass doors and windows were blown out.
Business travelers Milly Sonneman and Thomas Sechehaye, both of San Francisco, said they had no problem with flights into out out of St. Louis.
“The videos we saw were terrible,” Sonneman said. “If you think about what’s happened in the South, it shows how much worse things could have been. Under the grace of God, it’s not so bad.”