We woke up to reports of a tornado hitting Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. It’s hard to look at footage of a place so familiar, a home-away-from-home in my former home. The devastation to the area is still being uncovered in the daylight this morning. The airport is closed, they’re saying, indefinitely. The economic impact of that is difficult to calculate but will no doubt, be years in recovering.
The footage of passengers being evacuated to the safer, lower levels of the main terminal are amazing; everyone seems calm, there’s no shoving or panic in evidence, even while in the background, it appears scenes from the Wizard 0f Oz tornado are playing through the windows. The shot of a Southwest jet moving away from the jetway in the wind is hard to believe. From an outside perspective, and based on the fact that no one was killed in the crush and damage of the storm, it appears that the airport team is to be commended. Without airport employees training for crises like these, conducting drills and managing consistently to keep up with continuing education, it would be almost impossible to manage a crisis of this magnitude with the speed and efficiency required. From all I’m seeing on TV and online, this crisis was managed as well as could possibly be expected.
I’ve been in the main terminal at Lambert many, many times. I’ve flown in and out of St. Louis probably more than 50 times. That main terminal is made of a lot of glass. Reports say that more than 50 percent of the windows are broken and blown out. It will take some time to clean up and restore the airport to safe, working order.
Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, the airport’s director, is in a role she hoped she’d never have to assume, as the spokesperson for an airport hit with catastrophic damage. I just watched her in an interview aired on CNN. She’s handling the crisis communications beautifully and very quickly had Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley on the scene. It was touching when, as the CNN reporter asked the airport’s director at the close of the interview, how she felt about the tragedy. Hamm-Niebruegge smiled but was visibly choked up and said, “It’s sad. It’s just sad.”
Our hearts go out to the people in St. Louis affected by the storms; many homes have been damaged and lost — it may be a long time before St. Louis recovers from this Easter weekend.