By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal woke up to fallen trees, broken windows and busted buildings the morning after the May 20 windstorm.
Even seven months later, Emergency Management Director John Hark is still amazed no one was injured. The storm knocked out power in parts of the city for three days. Storefronts remained dark and Hannibal Public Schools closed as residents worked to remove fallen tree limbs from cars and homes.
An F-5 tornado had smashed into Moore, Okla. at 2:56 p.m. May 20 pummeling buildings, injuring more than 350 and killing 23. The storm hit Hannibal later in the day, about 7:30 p.m.
"It's the No. 1 storm that I've seen," Hark said. "It blew in here the way that it did, so fast and so quick. This was the storm that woke up the community to how quickly it could be paralyzed."
Hark raised and lowered the floodgates in Hannibal three times this spring. Thirty miles north, the Mississippi River crept up around businesses on Main Street in La Grange. Hannibal declared an emergency for snowfall in late February after a storm dumped 12 inches Feb. 21 -- then the storm continued to snow much of the next 12 days. Heavy rainfall in late May caused flooding in basements and turned yards into swamps throughout the Quincy area. A Memorial Day weekend storm damaged homes, and much of the damage was concentrated between Maine and Harrison and 30th and 36th streets. Companies like Servpro serviced a couple dozen homes for draining and dehumidifying basements and ripping out saturated carpet and drywall.
Still, Hark said the May 20 storm was most devastating storm he'd seen in his 40 years as emergency management director.
City Manager Jeff LaGarce reported Dec. 4 that the city is still facing financial hardships from storm cleanup. The city spent about $400,000 and six weeks picking up the mess.
"Anytime you have something like that, it's terrible for the people of the community," Hark said. "But when you have something major like that and no major injuries, then we've got a lot to be thankful for."
Cheryl Harder, the owner of Groomingdale's Pet Boutique, lost her business at 308 N. Main to the storm. The wind had punched out the third-story apartment above her first-floor business and knocked mounds of bricks into the parking lot below.
Harder since has moved her business a block away to Third Street. She said her customers like the new location, but she misses the neighborhood feeling of the Main Street site. While she'll never forget the devastation on Main Street that morning, she said what she remembers most is the generosity and the helpfulness of her community.
"It was a heart-sinking feeling, but one of the things I say often is that everything really works out for the best," Harder said.
Hark said the city learned valuable lessons about communication during the storm. He explained the city often relies on radio, newspapers and television to provide emergency warnings to the community, but those warnings halted for individuals who lost power.
He encourages residents to sign up landlines and cellphones for the free Code Red Emergency Alert Notification System at the Hannibal Parks and Recreation office, at Palmyra City Hall or at marion911.com.