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Branson Begins Repairing Tornado Ravaged Areas

Photo Credit: Sam Crowe

Volunteers and utility crews are at work cleaning up the streets and getting Branson ready for the busy tourist season after a tornado damaged many of the city's most popular destinations early Wednesday morning. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe has this report.

[SOUND: chainsaws]
Here on Mount Branson, volunteers carefully maneuver through downed power lines to help saw the uprooted trees that litter many front lawns. Jay Reese is a Branson resident of 25 years. He awoke at 1:30 in the morning early Wednesday when he heard loud noises coming from outside. He rushed to the bathroom with some blankets, knowing severe weather was on its way.

“They always talk about it being like a freight train. I was standing in the door and crash, the front window went out. One to two minutes, and it was over. Then it rained a little bit and did a few things,” Reese said.

Reese was lucky; his property only suffered minor damage, and his car remained free from the path of falling trees.

The same cannot be said for Ken Wilson, who lost his house and a brand new Ford pickup to fallen oak trees. Wilson says because of Mount Branson’s location – atop a bluff that overlooks Lake Taneycomo and the Landing – the winds were even more fierce. Debris from the landing is now scattered throughout his property.

“I’ve got yard furniture from the Landing over here in my front yard, and it blew out of the Hilton. I’m finding big chunks of the real thick glass all in my house that came out of the Hilton glass and blew all this way. It’s insane,” Wilson said.

Wilson says he’s thankful that he and his dog survived, and is glad that his truck is insured.

[SOUND: Red Cross disaster relief shelter]

Here at the Branson rec center, the Red Cross has set up a disaster relief shelter. It's offering free meals, showers and cots for displaced residents. Nigel Holderby, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, says that while the effects of a tornado can be devastating, the victims she’s talked to seem to be doing fine, considering what they've just been through.

“People seem very calm. The people that I’ve talked to just seem very calm and very thankful that they have a place to go and that they don’t have to sit there and wonder what they’re going to do next, that they can have a place that’s dry and not a destruction zone to make an assessment of what to do next,” Holderby said.

Holderby says local hotels have contacted the Red Cross about additional lodging for residents as they continue to seek permanent residence. She calls the community outreach “phenomenal”.

I spoke with Heather Miller, who was travelling through Branson with her husband and three children when the storm hit. I asked her what the experience was like.

“Scary, and not sure whether we were going to make it or not. We were in our vehicle and we were stuck in the middle of the storm, and it blew the windows out of our vehicles. We just put the kids down on the floorboard and covered them, and rode it out,” Miller said.

Miller says her son was sent to the hospital for minor wounds, but has since been released. Like so many other victims, she is grateful that her loved ones are still with her.

For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.