Nixon views storm damage, talks to victims, in Sunset Hills
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 1, 2011 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon got a first-hand look Saturday at the storm damage in Sunset Hills, traipsing through mud and the rubble of what had been -- just over 24 hours earlier -- more than a half dozen homes.
He was accompanied by local elected officials, police, firefighters and workers with Ameren Missouri and tree-cutting firms. Many of them earlier had joined the governor in a brief roundtable discussion of the damage, and their response, at the Sunset Hills City Hall.
But all faded in importance as the governor listened in rapt silence as Anthony Tumminia told how he and his family had narrowly survived when a tornado whipped off their Sunset Hills rental house while they crouched in a basement corner.
His girlfriend, Fontella Johnson, told Nixon of their terror as they sought shelter for themselves and their 9-month-old baby. "The lights went off, our ears popping," she said. A few seconds later, the house was gone.
Nixon and other officials stared at the concrete basement that remained, as Tumminia pointed out where they had huddled.
Nixon noted that for all the damage that Sunset Hills residents and businesses had suffered, at least there were no fatalities. His next stop in Rolla, Mo., was going to be more somber, he said, noting that four women died in Phelps and Dent counties during the storm.
"There were five separate tracks ... of very long, broad and quick-moving storms," Nixon said.
The governor added that his aim in visiting the damaged sites was to make clear that state officials would do what they could to help out -- within the state's limited financial means. Left unsaid is the hope that federal aid may be available.
Within hours of Friday's storms, which included tornadoes, the governor declared "a state of emergency."
Nixon, a Democrat, was joined by a handful of area state legislators -- all Republicans -- who represented the storm-struck areas.