City to mark one-year anniversary of tornado

Staff Report

A ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the New Year’s Eve tornado that ripped through the city of Sunset Hills will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, at the Community Center, 3915 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

City officials plan to unveil the flag that was flying over Watson Trail Park when the category EF3 tornado struck Sunset Hills. The flag has been framed and will hang in the Community Center.

The flag was recovered by resident Jim Williams after the tornado with winds near 150 mph tore a path of destruction from just east of the Fox Bridge subdivision along West Watson Road through the South Lindbergh Boulevard intersection.

Of the ceremony, Mayor Bill Nolan told the Call, “The flag will be mounted in its permanent location and we’re just going to invite everyone to gather around and see it unveiled. In most cases for the community at large, this will be the first time they will see the damage that the tornado managed to do to the flag without destroying it.

“… We will unveil the framed flag as close as we can to the time the tornado went through Watson Trail Park and blew it down. Now the tricky part of that is nobody can agree on what time it was,” he added, noting that differing accounts exist of the precise time the tornado struck. “So we’re going to be close, I hope.”

After the tornado struck last year, Nolan called it a “New Year’s Eve miracle,” citing less than a handful of minor injuries and no fatalities.

On Friday, Nolan recalled the tornado “played havoc with Watson Trail Park. I mean we had 250, 300 trees down and the shelter down and the tennis courts down and so on. And in the process, it knocked the flagpole down and Jim Williams found the flag in the debris, mud and rain as he was trying to get back to his home at Fox Bridge and he couldn’t get down Watson because of all the trees.

“Now there’s an adjunct story that his wife (Betty) was coming west on West Watson at the time the tornado hit and couldn’t see to drive. So she pulled over and put it in park and a tree fell on her car and totaled it. It didn’t hurt her,” he said.

“I mean this whole thing is a miracle. It really is. It didn’t hurt her. She got out of the car and helped the Noltings, who were trying to get out of their house, which was demolished. She was parked right in front of it and then went down the street to the house of friends.

“In the meantime, she talked to Jim and Jim’s trying to get home and he ended up parked up by the Police Department. He walked down West Watson around the trees, saw the flag and took it home. He picked all the debris and sticks and twigs off of it and dried it,” Nolan said, adding Williams returned the flag to him later that week.

“… We hung it in the chambers for the next Board (of Aldermen) meeting so the board could see it and then we folded it up, put it away and looked into getting it framed.”

The mayor said Williams paid for the materials and Home Is Where the Art Is donated the labor to frame the flag.

“Jim asked me: Whatever happened with the flag? And I said: Well, I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for getting the thing framed, and he said he’d donate it. So he not only recovered the flag, he underwrote the cost of having it framed. He’s quite a guy. He really is,” Nolan said.

As for Saturday’s ceremony, he said, “… It just commemorates the event and people can see some of the destructive force that was associated at least with the flag. Even the tornado couldn’t destroy the flag or the spirit of Sunset Hills,” he said.