‘Is this place about to fall?’: Man heard no sirens when tornado hit Jeff City hotel

“I’m still shaking,” Jefferson City residents hit hard by tornado

A “large and destructive tornado” hit Jefferson City shortly before midnight Wednesday.
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A “large and destructive tornado” hit Jefferson City shortly before midnight Wednesday.

Chandis Newell hadn’t heard any tornado sirens when the Jefferson City Best Western started shaking about 11:30 Wednesday night.

Newell had returned to the hotel less than an hour earlier, and he had heard there were tornadoes in the area. But he had no idea Jefferson City would see anything but rain that night.

By the time he realized there was a problem, the door to his third floor hotel room was jammed shut and he couldn’t see anything out his window through the rain and wind.

Out of options, Newell took cover in his bathroom to wait out the storm.

“I was legit scared, especially when I got in that bathroom,” Newell said. “A lot of things were running through my mind: ‘Is this place about to fall?’ The building just wouldn’t stop shaking. “

Newell had just moved to Jefferson City to run the local Family Dollar when the tornado hit about 11:40 Wednesday night. The storm left dozens injured and 100 people in shelters after it tore out full subdivisions and trailer parks and devastated businesses.

Although he is new to the area, he was no stranger to severe weather.

“I was a midwestern kid and I grew up looking at tornadoes in fields,” Newell said. “You could see tornadoes coming from miles away, but never like this.”

After almost 10 minutes hiding in his bathroom, Newell heard movement in the hallway and was able to exit his room. He helped other residents get out of the hotel and observed the damage, including blown out windows, toppled power lines and damaged vehicles.

He said the hotel customers hurried downstairs, concerned there would be another tornado.

“I’m not as worse off as some people but your heart starts racing when stuff like this is going on,” Newell said. “Just from looking at it all, it’s really trippy.”

By the time Newell was speaking to The Star Thursday, the scene had been cleared. Officials determined that a power line blocking the exit of the parking lot was not active and customers began to leave.

Almost all the windows on the backside of the hotel had been blown out and about 20 damaged cars remained in the parking lot, a few up to 100 feet away from where Newell had seen them parked the night before.

One woman who was injured was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, Newell said.

While no deaths were reported in the Jefferson City tornado, three were killed in a separate storm in Golden City in the southwestern part of Missouri.

Newell said this experience reminded him to take storms seriously.

“I’ve always heard about warnings. I’ve been in sirens. It doesn’t ever happen,” Newell said. “But this time I didn’t hear any sirens and something actually happened.”

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.