This time last year this community was beginning to rebuild after an EF-3 tornado ripped through the county on Oct. 24, 2021, leaving major damage in its path.
According to the National Weather Service, the half-mile wide tornado was on the ground for roughly 28 minutes, traveled 18.9 miles, and reached peak winds of 150 mph.
The damage was obvious even by moonlight, but as the sun began to rise, the devastation was heart-wrenching. Homes were completely wiped off their foundations. RVs were laying on Highway 72. Lives were changed in a moment.
The impact to the Black River Electric Cooperative campus was an immediate problem. The tornado directly hit and destroyed five of the seven buildings at the facility. It caused damage to most of the co-op’s fleet of trucks, which were needed to restore power to the citizens.
The power of the cooperative was seen in full force that night as linemen, supplies, bucket trucks and heavy equipment from members flocked into town to help.
Since the night of the storm, BREC has remained fully operational.
“One of our seven Cooperative Principles is ‘Cooperation Among Cooperatives,’” BREC Communication Specialist Heather Dietiker said. “That principle has never meant more to BREC than during this storm.
“We often send linemen to help restore power after ice storms or hurricanes, doing our part to support other cooperatives. This time, we were the ones receiving the support from dozens of electric cooperatives from across Missouri.”
Dietiker said many co-ops even left their trucks to be used as BREC tried to put its fleet back together.
“That’s what we call a powerful support system,” Dietiker said. “Our mission has been the same since 1938: to provide safe, affordable, and reliable electricity to our membership. A devastating tornado can’t stop that mission.”
BREC started the cleanup and rebuild right away but due to supply chain challenges, the new structures and supplies just arrived in October. While waiting, repairs were made to the damaged facilities which are almost complete.
“Repairs to our headquarters building are almost complete, as the last section of roofing is being replaced,” Dietiker said. “Our dispatch building, which also contains the engineering and operations departments, is completely repaired. A new equipment storage building is ready for use, and our main warehouse is now under construction.”
Dietiker said, Sargent Construction, the general contractor of the rebuild, has been a great partner during the process.
“We were blessed beyond measure that none of our co-op family was injured during the storm,” BREC General Manager John Singleton said. “It’s truly difficult to describe, the dedication, patience, fortitude, resiliency and just plain hard work that our employees and management team have exhibited under very trying conditions.
“Our folks began arriving immediately after the storm, many without being called, and set about two tasks. The first was restoring power to our members and the second was picking up the pieces so we could move forward. They started that night and haven’t stopped yet. I hope our members will take great pride in the selfless effort of the men and women on their co-op team.”
BREC was and is grateful for the outpouring of support from the people, organizations and agencies of Madison County.
Dietiker said both fire departments were on scene within minutes. The sheriff’s department and police department assisted in the hours and days after the storm. Sargent Construction arrived on scene in the early morning hours and has been with them since. The Fredericktown School District brought bottled water. Contractors and individuals offered food, assistance, and encouragement.
“Our community is fortunate to have such an engaged support system here locally,” Dietiker said. “A year later, as we begin to see real progress, we appreciate everyone’s patience and trust as we rebuild for a brighter future.”
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org