Missouri

‘Tossed around like toys’: Jefferson City tornado wrecked 500 vehicles at dealership

Listen to 911 calls after tornado ripped Jefferson City, Mo.

A tornado ripped through Jefferson City before midnight Wednesday, and then the 911 calls started to pour in with numerous reports of injuries. Thanks to early warnings, no deaths were reported Thursday a.m.
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A tornado ripped through Jefferson City before midnight Wednesday, and then the 911 calls started to pour in with numerous reports of injuries. Thanks to early warnings, no deaths were reported Thursday a.m.

Jay Schnieders went to his family’s car dealership early Thursday morning expecting to see some hail damage.

What he found was much worse.

Wednesday night a tornado ripped through Jefferson City, tearing apart subdivisions, trailer parks and Schnieders’ dealership.

The tornado flipped numerous cars on top of each other at the Riley Toyota Scion and Riley Chevrolet Buick GMC, a dealership his great-grandfather started in 1936. Glass scattered the pavement from cars now without windows.

The tornado hit the city about 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, leaving extensive damage along Ellis Boulevard near U.S. 54, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the National Weather Service.

No one was killed in Jefferson City, but 25 were injured in the storm.

When Schnieders reached his dealership, the general manager was in shock and a “sheer panic.” He hadn’t left since midnight and was assessing damage for more than 12 hours at the dealership on Christy Drive, near some of the most damaged parts of town.

“I just can’t believe it,” Schnieders said. “It’s just tossed around like toys out there.”

Schnieders pointed to one car that was thrown about 100 yards. Letters were ripped from the red Toyota sign once attached to the building, leaving just a “T,” “o” and slanted “a” hanging. Nearby power lines were slouched over, some touching the ground.

Schnieders estimated nearly 500 vehicles were damaged, likely totaling at least $15 million. Another relative guessed it was closer to $30 million, not including used cars and the structural damage.

Asked earlier how many cars were damaged, another family member said: “All of them.”

The dealership has video cameras. Schnieders hoped they caught footage of the cars being thrown, saying he would “like to know how high the trucks were in the air.”

The 44-year-old manager has never seen a tornado in Jefferson City, but remembered watching coverage of the EF-5 tornado that destroyed one-third of Joplin eight years ago Wednesday, killing 161 people Just the other day, he was talking with people about how they couldn’t remember a tornado every hitting Jefferson City.

“And now here we are,” he said. “Crazy.”

Schnieders lives just 10 minutes away. His home, and those of his relatives, were not damaged. He remained thankful no one was injured at the dealership, echoing a sentiment heard on the streets and in gas stations across Jefferson City: “You can’t replace people. You can replace material stuff.”

Three died last night in another tornado in Golden City in the southwest section of the state.

Schnieders hoped no looting occurred at his dealership after the tornado. For now, he was waiting for an insurance assessor to come out before they begin to rebuild.

“About the only thing we can do,” he said.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.

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.

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