The unoccupied mobile home that rolled off its concrete pad, collapsed and crashed into an uprooted tree in the Juergens Trailer Park near Sullivan Wednesday night had been vacated only about a week earlier, authorities said.
The trailer was destroyed when a microburst blew through an area north of Sullivan Wednesday night as part of a severe storm system that hit Franklin County head-on.
The National Weather Service out of St. Louis confirmed on Thursday that the damage was caused by a microburst and not a tornado. NWS officials also confirmed that a 101 mph wind gust was reported through instrumentation at Sullivan Regional Airport just after 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
At about the same time, the trailer park was hit by what some residents described as a tornado.
There were no serious injuries reported from the storms in the Sullivan and St. Clair areas, officials said, and Sullivan Fire Department officials confirmed Wednesday night that everyone who resides in the trailer park has been accounted for.
Capt. Damon Sumpter told The Missourian at the scene on Thursday morning that maybe as many as 75 percent of the mobile homes in the 50-lot park may have sustained some sort of damage. It appeared all but the destroyed one remained upright.
Debris was strewn throughout the area, mainly consisting of insulation, metal sheeting and tree limbs. Several big trees were uprooted with a few of them falling on top of some of the homes. Residents, neighbors and friends started cleanup efforts there Thursday morning.
“Residents told us they saw a tornado touch down,” Sumpter told The Missourian. “But until the area gets checked out, we won’t know for sure. But, as you can see, there is a lot of damage from some kind of very strong winds.”
NWS crews surveyed damaged areas on Thursday and determined that microbursts hit Meramec State Park, Sullivan Regional Airport and the trailer park off of Springfield Road.
A microburst is defined as a downdraft in a thunderstorm that produces strong straightline winds.
Significant tree damage at several locations inside the state park was reported and two aircraft hangars at the airport sustained minor damage.
Throughout Sullivan, there were reports of trees and wires down, Sumpter said, but nothing serious other than at the trailer park.
Numerous billboards along Interstate 44 in the area also were damaged or destroyed, the NWS stated.
Sumpter was a member of one of the fire crews that responded to the trailer park shortly after 7 p.m. on Thursday. The NWS issued a tornado warning for the Sullivan and St. Clair areas from 7:17 to 7:45 p.m.
“When we got to the park here, most neighbors already were checking on other neighbors,” Sumpter said. “We conducted a trailer-by-trailer search to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for. Once we determined everyone was safe, we checked on injuries. There really weren’t any, at least no serious ones.”
Ameren Missouri crews were called in to make sure all electricity was turned off as wires also were down throughout the area.
Sumpter said he had heard that the trailer that rolled off its pad and collapsed had been vacated only last week. One of the residents of the park confirmed that.
The rolled trailer looked like it had moved at least 20 to 30 feet from its pad.
That trailer was located behind and west of Lot 37 near the middle of the park, where a second unit was hit pretty hard. The Lot 37 trailer appeared to have been lifted or blown off its pad and moved but remained upright. Windows were blown out and numerous tree limbs, some of them big, surrounded the trailer, including on the roof.
The people living in the Lot 37 trailer were home at the time, neighbors said, but they were OK.
“I saw the tornado come through right over there,” said Sarah Carroll, who lives with her husband, Chuck, at Lot 25, located south of Lot 37, while pointing toward her neighbor’s home to the west. “It touched down, then jumped over to the two trailers there that were hit the hardest.
“It happened so fast. There was no warning,” she said.
Chuck Carroll said he thought it was about 7:10 p.m. when the storm hit.
“The weather really wasn’t too bad,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, it got black. Then it hit.”
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Sarah Carroll said.
Sarah Carroll said she was watching her neighbor’s dog at the time and was outside with it when the storm hit.
“That’s when I saw it,” she said.
“I pulled her and the dog in the door,” Chuck Carroll said. “Everything was blowing everywhere.”
“It lasted maybe 10 to 20 seconds,” Sarah Carroll said. “Then when it was over, we went outside to start checking on everything and everyone.”
Some of the Carroll’s soffit material from their home ended up near the other side of the park about 100 yards away.
“At least we were able to stay,” Chuck Carroll said. “We’re really not too bad. It was just a tough night’s sleep.”
Another individual who was home at the time of the intense storm was Sam Borbein, who lives at Lot 20 toward the front of the park.
“All I remember is feeling the trailer getting lifted up and shaking violently back and forth,” she said. “A fan we had in the window got sucked out. It was so scary. And then it was over.”
Borbein said she was with five other people in the mobile home at the time of the storm, and as quickly as they could all of them left the home, climbed into her Jeep and went to Stanton to check on a friend. The friend was fine, and the group returned to the park at about 8:30 to 9 p.m.
“We ended up with only some minor damage,” Borbein said. “We were pretty lucky.”
St. Clair Area
St. Clair Fire Protection Chief Mike Kelley said there were numerous reports of trees and wires down in and around St. Clair Thursday night, but nothing extensive.
He did say the worst-hit area appeared to be about a quarter-mile stretch along Highway K from about Deep Woods Drive to Courtney Drive.
“There were multiple trees, poles and wires involved at that location,” Kelley said. “They were all over the place.”
He said fire crews were dispatched to that scene at 7:26 p.m. and did not return until 3:30 a.m. The road was closed for a good portion of the day Thursday so Ameren crews could work on restoring electricity to homes in the area. There were numerous scattered power outages in the county.
“Highway K was blocked,” Kelley said.
In all, the interim chief said fire crews responded to 15 service calls throughout the night, the majority of which were for trees or wires down.
St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack told The Missourian on Thursday afternoon that his department had not received any calls reporting damage in the city.