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Looking to the southwest across Highway 76 from Branson Fire Station Number 1 Image by KTTS News
Recovery efforts continue today following the touchdown of an EF-2 tornado in Branson, MO in the early morning hours of February 29, 2012. There were no fatalities in the Branson/Lakes area, although several minor injuries and significant property damage occurred.
“We are blessed that no one died due to this tornado, and our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who did lose loved ones as a result of all these recent storms that have struck much of the Midwestern and Southern parts of the US. We’ve been touched by the outpouring of support from around the nation. We forget how many millions of folks we have welcomed to Branson over the years.” said Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley.
33 moderate or slight injuries have been reported as a result of the storm in Branson. Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises although one more serious injury was reported.
Most of the storm damage to commercial areas is in localized sections of W 76 Country Boulevard and the Branson Convention Center area. Initial estimates are that the convention center will be up and running in 30 to 60 days. Meetings and conventions that were scheduled for the Branson Convention Center in upcoming weeks are being contacted regarding relocation in the area, many to Chateau on the Lake, which sustained no damage as a result of the storm.
Recovery and rebuilding efforts continue today, with many of the affected businesses reopening or scheduled to reopen in the coming days. “I drove down The Strip this morning and I’m amazed that only three days after the tornado touched down that so many of the damaged areas look more like a construction zone than a disaster zone. We’ve still got a ways to go, but the progress made so far to those damaged areas has been remarkable,” says Dean Kruithof, Branson’s City Administrator.
A drive through neighborhoods throughout Branson revealed neighbors helping each other and volunteers circulating through communities lending a helping hand. Roofing shingles, temporary plywood patches, yard and debris cleanup is the order of the day. Chainsaws can be heard all over the city as pickup trucks filled with future firewood move from place to place.
All of W 76 Country Boulevard (also known as the world famous “Branson Strip”) reopened to traffic on March 1, and visitors are traveling to and from attractions, shows and restaurants with only infrequent restricted access to certain sections to accommodate utility crews.
The City of Branson has secured the resources of the Structural Assessment and Visual Evaluation (SAVE) Coalition to tour the damaged commercial properties in the community. This coalition is made up of volunteer structural engineers and architects that will go to each damaged building, evaluate the building condition and post it with color coded 8 ½ x 11” signage. The signage will identify three building categories:
INSPECTED – Lawful Occupancy Permitted (Green Paper)
RESTRICTED (Yellow Paper)
UNSAFE – Do Not Enter or Occupy (Red Paper)
The SAVE team will travel with Building and Fire Inspectors. For easy identification, the Fire Inspectors will be in uniform and travel in marked fire department vehicles.
Taney County tornado volunteer efforts to assist area residents with homes damaged by the storm are being managed by AmeriCorps St. Louis. Representatives are currently working out of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau located at 269 MO Hwy 248.
Individuals who need assistance may register at the Chamber by calling 417-243-2161, or via email at ACSTLBranson@gmail.com. Volunteers are welcomed and AmeriCorps is currently collecting information from those who are able to help. Interested individuals can email ACSTLBranson@gmail.com or sign up at www.VolunteerBranson.org.
It has been reported in various news outlets that The Veteran’s Memorial Museum sustained major damage during the storm. According to June Tillis, the museum director, “We’re A-OK. The plane and sculpture in front of the museum were damaged, but the museum itself is fine. As soon as we get the electricity turned back on, we’ll be welcoming our veterans and other visitors as we have been for more than a decade.”
Branson Landing was closed for two days following the tornado, and is now open. The famous Branson Landing fountains have resumed their scheduled performances. There are still a small number of stores that are still closed for repairs, and consumers can visit www.BransonLanding.com to find out more information.
Dick’s 5 & 10 Co-Owner Steve Hartley said merchants in Historic Downtown Branson are taking care of customers in their “usual friendly way,” and have been since just hours after the twister. “We were down a very short period; now we are ready to go. Branson’s spirit has shown what we are made of,” Hartley said.
Plans for Branson’s April 1 Centennial Celebration and Museum opening at 101 Veterans Blvd. are right on schedule according to celebration producer Bogie Bohinc.
The Emergency Operation Center will be taken down this evening and ongoing coordination of recovery efforts will be moved to Fire Station #1.
Power has been restored to the majority of the affected area, with only 400 utility customers still without electricity. Numerous utility workers performed diligently to restore power to the area quickly after the storm. Roughly 400 utilities personnel, contractors, insurance agents, FEMA officials, volunteers, police and other officials from outside of Branson are assisting in the recovery efforts.
FEMA has completed their assessment of the damage done by the storm. 71 residential properties sustained damage ranging from slightly affected to total damage. 147 commercial properties sustained damage ranging from minor to major. For the complete report please contact FEMA at 800/621-FEMA.
Major attractions such as Silver Dollar City, TITANIC Museum Attraction, Hughes Brothers Theatre, RFD-TV The Theatre, IMAX Entertainment Complex, Tanger Outlet Mall, Sight and Sound Theatre, Showboat Branson Belle and numerous other theatres, lodging properties, attractions, restaurants and retail stores are undamaged, open as previously scheduled and are welcoming visitors to the Live Music Show Capital of the World.
Only six of the more than 50 theatres in Branson have sustained significant damage as a result of the storms. A list of scheduled show opening dates is posted on www.ExploreBranson.com. The majority of shows will open on schedule or have already opened for the 2012 season. For March 3, 2012, shows playing in Branson include:
Amazing Pets at The Grand Country Music Hall
Hank Williams Revisited at The Little Opry Theatre
Comedy Jamboree at The Grand Country Music Hall
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction
Grand Jubilee at The Grand Country Music Hall
Pierce Arrow at The Pierce Arrow Theatre
The Haygoods at RFD-TV The Theatre
Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus
Hamner Barber Variety Show at The Hamner Barber Theatre
SIX at The Mickey Gilley Theatre
“it” at the Hughes Brothers Theatre
Branson Country USA Late Show at The Grand Country Music Hall
22 of the more than 200 hotels in Branson have sustained damage as a result of the storms, with varying degrees of severity. Estimated opening dates for those affected hotels will be posted on www.ExploreBranson.com. Branson has more than 18,000 lodging units, and can host up to 60,000 visitors a day. The storm damage has not substantially affected Branson’s lodging capacity, and the vast majority of lodging properties are open for business as usual.
Mayor Raeanne Presley might have said it best when she said, “It is humbling to face the power of a destructive force such as this tornado. Yet this is exactly the time our community has gathered their strength to rise above daily chores - to volunteer, donate, work long hours in cold and heat. While I am so sad for the loss of property, I am heartened to know our Branson will rise up stronger than ever.”.
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