Tornado Damages Missouri Co-op Buildings, Destroys Almost All of Its Trucks

A severe tornado did extensive damage to Black River Electric Cooperative’s headquarters buildings and destroyed 25 of its trucks when an awning fell down on top of them. (Photo Courtesy: Jim McCarty/Rural Missouri magazine)

A tornado that swept through southeast Missouri on Sunday night caused severe damage to Black River Electric Cooperative’s buildings, destroyed 25 trucks and knocked out power to more than a quarter of its consumer-members.

Despite the destruction, the co-op—with the help of crews from eight other Missouri co-ops—had restored power by Monday to the majority of the 6,500 members who suffered outages. The number of affected members was down to 1,477 by early Monday afternoon, said CEO John Singleton.

“Offers of help have been pouring in from around the state,” Singleton said. “We appreciate the support from our sister cooperatives. With their help, we will get the power back on to all as soon as possible.”

The EF-3 twister, with winds of 136 to 165 miles per hour, was one of several tornadoes that blew through Missouri and Illinois on Sunday, causing thousands of power outages. Fredericktown, where 24,000-member Black River Electric is based, was among those hit hardest, according to news reports.

The tornado did severe damage to Black River Electric’s main office, warehouse and dispatch center. It destroyed almost its entire truck fleet when an awning collapsed on top of the vehicles. Employees were not in the office when the tornado struck, and no one was injured.

“Broken poles are our biggest problem now along with debris in the damaged areas and terrible ground conditions,” Singleton said. A total of 50 power poles were broken, he said.

“It’s a struggle because of the number of vehicles that were damaged. Several contractor crews on our system and a few neighboring ones came in last night and have made a lot of progress. Our crews worked all night.”

After the broken windows in the co-op’s headquarters were boarded up, employees gathered in the building’s meeting room Monday to continue operations. Others picked through the rubble to see what could be salvaged for repairs.

Lineworkers and trucks from Black River Electric’s offices in Ellington and Marble Hill rushed to the Fredericktown area Sunday to help with restoration. They were joined by Cuivre River Electric Cooperative from Troy, Crawford Electric Cooperative from Bourbon, Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative from West Plains, Intercounty Electric Cooperative from Licking, M&A Electric Power Cooperative from Poplar Bluff, Ozark Border Electric Cooperative from Poplar Bluff, Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative from Hayti and SEMO Electric Cooperative from Sikeston.

A Missouri equipment company, Altec Inc. of Cameron, sent two trucks to the co-op from Jefferson City, where they were being used for a lineworker rodeo sponsored by the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

Black River Electric was the hardest-hit co-op in Missouri, according to an outage map posted by the statewide association. Citizens Electric Corp. in Perryville reported about 750 outages as of Monday afternoon and Ozark Border EC reported about 175.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.