Sunset Hills tornado relief fund reaches $125,000

Help ‘has just been unbelievable,’ mayor says.

By Evan Young

The Sunset Hills mayor on Tuesday lauded those who’ve given to tornado relief and said the city’s special assistance fund for storm survivors had grown to more than $125,000 in contributions.

Mayor Bill Nolan provided an update to members of the Crestwood-Sunset Hills Area Chamber of Commerce on the effort to restore his city following the EF3 tornado that struck on Dec. 31.

“We had the tremendous opportunity — if you want to consider a tornado an opportunity — for people to do good things and to help,” Nolan said. “And the help has just been unbelievable.”

The weather system involved tornadoes and high winds in communities across the state, including Sunset Hills, Crestwood and Fenton.

The New Year’s Eve storm — 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.

The storm damaged hundreds of area homes and businesses. Initially only minor injuries and no fatalities were reported locally. However, a Fenton woman injured in the storm, Margaret “Peggy” Birkes, 70, died Jan. 10.

Statewide, tornadoes touched down in 13 locations, killing two people near Rolla and two people in Dent County, just south of Phelps County.

Nolan said help arrived immediately in Sunset Hills. He noted the efforts of area first responders, especially the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

“The fire department did an excellent job,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about (Mehlville) Chief Tim White and Assistant Chief Brian Hendricks. They searched the buildings. They made sure there were no serious injuries. They took one of our elderly residents out in an ambulance not because he was injured but just because they thought he was better off away from the scene than sitting in the rain.”

Dozens of volunteers showed up the next day to begin clearing debris; hundreds turned out for a citywide cleanup a week later.

“For those of you who are unfamiliar with Service International, and I certainly was, it is the most incredible group of volunteers you could ever hope for in a community …,” Nolan said. “They coordinated all the volunteer efforts. The last Saturday they were with us, 806 people signed up to volunteer. It’s absolutely amazing what Service International was able to bring to the table.”

The city established a special Tornado Assistance Fund, which has grown exponentially in the past two weeks with proceeds from fundraisers and individual donors.

“It’s been going great,” Nolan said. “I have to compliment everybody who just stepped up and wrote checks, stepped up and brought money by City Hall.”

Chamber businesses on Tuesday presented Nolan with checks totaling more than $1,500 for the TAF. A 50-50 raffle conducted during the chamber meeting raised more than $500, with 100 percent of ticket sales benefiting tornado relief.

With those contributions, the TAF has reached more than $125,000, Nolan later told the Call.

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson on Tuesday also provided the chamber with an update on relief efforts in his city. Roughly 50 Crestwood homes sustained damage in the storm but all are still inhabitable, Robinson said.

He, too, acknowledged the initiative of area residents in the aftermath of the tornado.

“We see so much across the nation that people are mean and against each other. One thing I can say about our community is that we’re together, and if anyone has problems we’ll work together to resolve them,” Robinson said.

Nolan concluded his remarks by asking the audience to observe a moment of silence to thank God for keeping Sunset Hills safe during the storm.

“If we’ve got anybody to be grateful to, more than anyone else, it’s that man upstairs who managed to let a tornado hit Sunset Hills but with no major injuries and no fatalities,” Nolan said. “And if you had been on the scene that Friday afternoon, it’s hard to believe no one was killed.”

Those who still wish to donate to tornado relief are asked to make checks payable to the “City of Sunset Hills-TAF” and mail them to: City of Sunset Hills-TAF, 3939 S. Lindbergh Blvd., Sunset Hills, MO 63127.