It was fortunate that the New Year's Eve tornado that raced through part of eastern Franklin County was largely confined to rural, sparsely populated areas, Sheriff Gary Toelke said.
"As long as the storm's path was, if it had gone through a highly populated area, we would have had much more serious damage and injuries," Toelke said.
While there was significant damage to some structures, no injuries or deaths were reported in Franklin County from the late-morning storm, the sheriff said.
The category EF 2 tornado, spawned by a large, severe thunderstorm, began its trek along the Meramec River valley near Bruns Bridge east of St. Clair, according to National Weather Service reports.
From there it headed northeast, splintering and uprooting numerous trees and damaging several homes, completely destroying one at the intersection of Eagle Ridge and Woods Creek roads, before dropping down at Roberstville where it damaged seven homes on Hayfield Drive, two church buildings and another building at the corner of Highways O and N, the weather service reported.
Shortly after the fast-moving thunderstorm cleared Franklin County, Sheriff Toelke and Reserve Deputy Tom Cline were in the air in Cline's two-seat helicopter heading to survey the damage at Robertsville.
After flying over the hardest-hit area, they followed the tornado's path southwest back to Bruns Bridge on Mill Hill Road, making a video record of the damage.
That aerial video can be viewed by going to emissourian.com.
"Most of the storm's path was through heavily wooded areas, which was a good thing," Toelke said. "You could see where it went down in spots, then lifted back up off the ground. In one area we saw where a large bunch of trees were all knocked down in the same direction." The tornado winds completely scalped large trees along one ridge, Toelke said.
The weather service said the tornado followed a 6.5-mile-long path before dissipating after hitting Robertsville. The tornado cut a path about 175 yards wide in most areas and reached a width of 280 yards at its widest point.
Back at Robertsville, Toelke said emergency crews were on the scene including firefighters from Boles, Pacific and St. Clair fire districts.
About 15 deputies were called in to go door-to-door to check on residents and patrol area roads. Missouri Highway Patrol troopers also responded to assist.
"There were a lot of people out there helping," Toelke remarked.
While crews were checking homes and buildings, Toelke said Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer and First District Commissioner Terry Wilson responded to survey the damage. He said they called in a county highway department crew to respond with a truck to help remove debris.
"The way they (the sheriff's department) handled Friday's events was incredible and we're very fortunate to have the quality of emergency service providers we do. I want to especially thank the sheriff's office, Pacific Fire Department, Meramec Ambulance and our own Emergency Management Agency. I think all of us have to be more cognizant of the fact that something indeed can happen (here)."
Abe Cook, the county's EMA director, said he would be meeting with officials from both state and federal emergency management agencies Thursday to begin the preliminary damage assessment.
Once that assessment is complete, the information will be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon's office. Nixon then could declare a state of emergency in the impacted areas and help in obtaining federal recovery funding.
Two weaker tornadoes were reported south of Washington but other than tearing most of the roof off a pole barn, those did not cause heavy damage.
The weather service said Friday's tornadoes were the first in Franklin County since 2004 and the tornado at Robertsville was the first EF 2 rated storm in this area since 1982.