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Tornadoes: One Year Later

Exactly one year after a series of deadly tornadoes strike the Ozarks, the Director of FEMA tours the area. Listen ad Mike Smith talks to Mike Brown and National Weather Service Meteorolgist Andy Foster about the storms of May 4 2003, and the work that's been done to re-build in the year since.

News Reports from National Public Radio on the morning of May 5 th , 2003, tell the nation what occurred in the Ozarks the night before when a series of deadly tornadoes swept through the area, causing major damage to several communities including Pierce City and Stockton. One of the storms left a path of destruction north of Springfield in Barton, Cedar, Polk, Dallas, and Camden counties. In Cedar County, the city of Stockton over 80 businesses and 200 homes were completely destroyed by the F-3 tornado that hit on the evening of May 4 th. The tornado that struck Pierce City first touched down in Newton County before tracking East across Lawrence, and parts of Christian and Greene counties. That storm affected the towns of Verona, Aurora, Marionville, Billings, Clever, and Battlefield. In all that night, 19 people were killed and over 3000 homes, businesses, mobile homes, and apartments were damaged or destroyed.

Andy Foster of the national Weather Service in Springfield was one of the federal forecasters on duty that night. He says the storm was interesting on a scientific level, (radar indicated several super cell thunderstorms producing the tornadoes) but when word started to come in about the deaths and injuries caused by the tornadoes, the mood at the National Weather Service turned somber. He says the tornadoes were so deadly and damaging because they were powerful, and on the ground for a very long time. The F-3 tornado that hit Pierce City was tracked for nearly 40 miles, and the twister that hit Stockton was on the ground for 80 miles. An F-3 tornado can produce winds in excess of 200 miles an hour. Foster says at least 15 tornadoes were confirmed that night by the national Weather Service.

Mike Brown is the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, and the Director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In an exclusive Springfield radio interview with KSMU, he says he was awakened at his home in Washington D.C. and told about the storms in Southwest Missouri. He the made a few phone calls to get his agency prepared to respond when a request for assistance was made by Missouri Governor Bob Holden.

Brown says as with any event of this kind, getting help to those affected is a huge organizational challenge, but with the great work done by FEMA personnel, he is able to tell President Bush with confidence, that FEMA works the way it's supposed to.

Mike Brown says in the past year, over 31 million dollars in federal disaster aid has been distributed in the area to assist in the recovery process. More than 5 million dollars has been given to Pierce City and Stockton, and today, (May 4 th , 2004) Brown is visiting the two towns to announce an additional $400,000 in federal grants to help in the construction of tornado "safe rooms" in the towns. Pierce city will build a safe room in a fire station. Stockton will build one in the towns community center.

For KSMU News, I'm Mike Smith.