ST. LOUIS — An Amazon warehouse collapsed near Pontoon Beach in Madison County, trapping employees inside, as tornadoes and strong storms blew through the St. Louis region throughout the evening. There was widespread damage from the storms in multiple counties, including homes and other buildings destroyed, wires down and thousands of people without power.
Police and fire agencies from throughout the region responded to the area of the warehouse collapse, outside of Edwardsville, where multiple injuries were possible. There were reports of perhaps 100 or more people trapped inside, although those numbers were not confirmed.
A large tornado had been reported in the Edwardsville area just after 8 p.m. The National Weather Service in St. Louis issued several reports of "radar-confirmed" tornadoes in the region.
The Illinois Department of Transportation's local office also was reporting significant damage in the area of Interstate 270 and Illinois Route 111, where the Amazon warehouse was located, and urged drivers to avoid the area.
There were also reports of a house destroyed in Defiance, Missouri, and homes flattened in St. Charles County. Along Stub Road and Highway F, at least thee people had been rescued from a debris field, New Melle fire officials said. One person had serious injuries, they said.
Ameren was reporting thousands of people without power in the region. In Madison County, more than 8,000 customers were without power. That county accounted for the vast majority of the 12,000 total outages in Illinois.
There were also more than 8,000 customers without power in St. Charles County, with more than 1,200 out in St. Louis County.
A tornado watch, meaning conditions are right for twisters to form, took effect Friday afternoon and was expected to remain in place through 11 p.m. for a wide swath of counties, including the immediate St. Louis area, the National Weather Service in St. Louis said. The watch covered dozens of counties throughout the region, even stretching into Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and multiple other states.
The watch was upgraded to a warning — meaning a tornado had been spotted or indicated on radar — as the storm system steadily marched into the region, starting with outlying counties in Missouri and heading across the St. Louis region. The storms were quickly moving northeast, with Metro East counties in their path.
The gravest tornado risk initially was for counties to the north and south of the immediate St. Louis area, but strong storms with damaging winds and even hail were reported throughout much of the region. Winds of up to 70 mph had been forecast for Friday night, the weather service said.
Matt Beitscher, a meteorologist with the St. Louis office., had warned that residents should stay alert for whatever the weather brought Friday night.
"A lot of folks like to turn off their alerts when they sleep," Beitscher said, but it's not a good idea when unsettled weather takes place in the evening and overnight hours.
It doesn't help that many people let their guard down to severe weather outbreaks in late fall and as winter approaches. "While it's uncommon, it's not unheard of to have severe weather in December," Beitscher said.
In late October, at least five tornadoes touched down in Missouri and Illinois south of St. Louis, including two large twisters with peak wind speeds of about 150 mph.
Some homes and businesses were destroyed, trees were downed and power knocked out in and around Fredericktown and St. Mary in Missouri and also in Chester, Illinois.
The weather has been particularly topsy-turvy this week, with snow flurries sighted in some parts of the region on Tuesday, and then a steady rise in temperatures over the past several days. The forecast for the weekend calls for slightly cooler temperatures, followed by another warmup next week.
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