JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — David Bell was in his truck on the side of the highway when a tornado hit Missouri’s capital of Jefferson City. As the winds whistled, houses collapsed around him, poles snapped and transformers blew out in flashes.
The tornado caught sleeping residents off guard late Wednesday night, sending debris 13,000 feet into the air, the National Weather Service said.
Inside Bell’s truck, his windscreen shattered as he sat in stunned silence, watching through the gaping hole as debris flew. Part of a house was blown underneath his trailer, he said.
Bell had pulled over to the shoulder of Highway 54 with 44,500 pounds of soda in his trailer after the weather alert went off on his phone, not knowing he’d be in the path of the storm.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” he said. “I watched a bunch of transformers blown. Houses next to me completely obliterated. A house halfway underneath my trailer.”
During those few moments, he thought about his family and whether he’d see them again, he said.
“I’m still a little shook up, I ain’t gonna lie,” he said. “I saw signs flying. I saw signs lay over. And then all I could do is brace myself for the impact. It seemed like it lasted forever.”
The tornado damaged Bell’s truck, and he had to cut his seat belt using a pocket knife to get out.
He was still on the side of the road early Thursday, sipping on his six-pack of beer as he waited for a tow truck to haul his trailer.
Then he’ll go home to Eldon, Missouri.
‘Mom, there’s a tornado’
Jefferson City resident Cindy Sandoval-Jakobsen had just taken her daughter to her room when the tornado hit, blowing out her windows and smashing a tree though her front door.
“The wind came. She said, ‘Mom, there’s a tornado.'” Jakobsen said of her daughter. “We got in the bathroom — that’s the only place that has no windows. When it hit, I’m from Southern California, it felt like an earthquake.”
First responders rushed into the house shortly afterward and she told them they’re OK.
‘Like one of those … natural disaster movies’
Aaliyah Caldwell was in bed when an alert on her iPhone said there was a tornado near her apartment. Shortly afterward, her window blew out.
While her apartment was not damaged, the one above it was destroyed along with a nearby gas station and a fast-food restaurant, she said.
Walking outside “was like a horror film. Like one of those natural disaster movies,” she said. “I’m from St. Louis. This is my first tornado. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this. My friends and I thought it was a joke.”
Hours later, she said, she was still in shock.
“Wow did this really just happen to me?” she asked.
The tornado hit Jefferson City just before midnight. No fatalities have been reported in the city of about 43,000 people, police Lt. David Williams said early Thursday.
“We are still working very hard to identify any injured people and any places that we need to put more additional personnel,” he said.
Before the tornado hit, the weather service issued an urgent warning.
“Violent tornado confirmed — shelter now!” it tweeted.