Tornado Destruction: St. Louis Residents Clean Up After Storm

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) -- People in the St. Louis area are recovering in the wake of a monster tornado -- the worst in nearly a half century -- that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and ripped through the major airport over the weekend.

New damage totals show some 2,700 buildings around St. Louis damaged, and 100 homes destroyed, including Marcy Baker's house.

She was spending Easter weekend in Dallas with her family when she got a call that her house had been hit. She drove home 12 hours to find her house destroyed.

"I have a 15-month-old, I'm pregnant. It's devastating," Baker said.

At a nearby Catholic church, the 40-foot steeple toppled during the tornado that struck in the middle of Good Friday services.

Power was knocked out to as many as 47,000 customers after the tornado. On Sunday, some 26,000 customers remained without power and officials said many could remain in the dark until Monday. No one was killed and a handful of injuries were reported.

At Lambert Airport, surveillance video captured the exact moment a 135-mile-an-hour tornado struck, ripping off the roof and sending metal flying. Officials are fixing hundreds of panes of broken glass. It could take months and millions of dollars to fully complete the clean up.

Flights were getting back to normal after the airport reopened Saturday. Airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge says the continuing repairs to the airport shouldn't impact travelers.

"The majority of the windows are boarded up, still doing just a little bit of work on that but the airport itself is structurally sound," she said.

Yet despite all this, victims are counting their blessings. There were no reported deaths as a result of the tornado.

"It's a miracle out of all the devastation. There were absolutely no fatalities, and very few injuries," said Terry Hayes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Police Investigate Maine Woman's Disappearance As a Crime

Thinkstock/Getty Images(CONWAY, N.H.) -- Police are searching for clues in the mysterious disappearance of Krista Dittmeyer, the Maine mother who left her car running with her baby girl inside.

Police believe Dittmeyer, a 20-year-old single mother, is the victim of a crime.

Police found Dittmeyer's black Nissan Sentra's hazard lights flashing with its door open near a fitness center in Conway, N.H., on Saturday morning. In the backseat of the car was 14-month-old Aliyah.

Aliyah is in good condition and is in the care of family members.

"She would never ever, ever leave her in a car by herself, ever. We know that she would do whatever it takes to be here with her daughter," said Kathy Pratt, a family friend.

According to Conway police, officers responded to the report of an unattended car at around 6:30 a.m. The fitness center shares a parking lot with the Cranmore Mountain recreational center.

"We're actively investigating the case and exhausting all resources to do so...Anytime an adult is separated from a child for this length of time and is out of contact from friends and family, it gives us concern. We're particularly concerned in this case," said Conway Police Lt. Christopher Perley.

It's unclear why Dittmeyer was in New Hampshire. She lives in Portland, Maine, and is originally from Bridgton, Maine. Her family last spoke to her Friday night. Dittmeyer's mother said that everything sounded normal when she talked to her daughter.

Kayla Dittmeyer, the missing woman's sister, flew from Colorado to Maine to help search for her sister.

"Please let us know you're safe. We need you. Your daughter needs you," said Kayla Dittmeyer, sister of the missing woman.

Krista Dittmeyer is described as five-foor-two and weighing 117 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Crews Recover Idaho Miner's Body

Simon Baker-Pool/Getty Images (File)(MULLAN, Idaho) -- Search crews on Sunday found the dead body of a miner who got trapped in an Idaho mine which collapsed on April 15.

The Hecla Mining Company (HCM) issued a news release saying that the body of Larry Marek was recovered on Sunday afternoon by crews. The company says the next step is to conduct an in-depth investigation into how and why the tragic incident occurred.

Earlier Sunday, company officials said they believed Marek was killed in the incident as he was “under the fall of ground” when the mine collapsed. Marek became trapped when part of the Lucky Friday mine in northern Idaho collapsed on April 15.

In a statement posted on the company’s website, HCM said, “Words cannot express the deep sorrow we feel at the tragic loss of our friend, colleague and 30-year veteran of the mining industry. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and friends.”

Marek was employed with HCM for more than 12 years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


States Get Creative with Official Symbols

Photos[dot]com/Jupiterimages(NEW YORK) -- States seem to be getting increasingly creative with their official symbols.

New York legislators last week introduced a bill that would make the rescue dog the state's official dog. But those in the know say states have considered even quirkier symbols in the past.

Benjamin F. Shearer, who co-authored State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols with his wife Barbara S. Shearer, said the practice of designating official state symbols really took off in the 1920s and 1930s.

"Garden clubs wanted to have state flowers, and they would suggest state flowers and a lot of these minor symbols used for citizenship purposes," he said. For example, "They'd let school children vote on whether they wanted the robin or the bluejay to be the state bird."

More recently, however, the motivation for adopting state symbols has shifted. "Lots of states were adopting the symbols as ads for the state," he said.

For example, to highlight its bounty of tomatoes, Ohio made tomato juice its official state beverage in 1965.

In some cases, state designations promote tourism, he said.

Hawaii likes to tell its visitors that if they snorkel in the islands they might encounter the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, the state's official fish known for its long name and prominence in the region's coral reefs. Travelers to New Hampshire quickly learn that the state's official sport is skiing.

Some states adopt official symbols for protective reasons, Shearer said, for example, to protect fossils or precious gems.

Symbols may show how the state's residents have a good time. Several states, like Oklahoma and Utah, for example, have an official folk dance (for both states, it's the square dance).

"I think these were all meant to say something about what resource a state has or what sports they have," Shearer said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Police Make 'Significant' Find in Hunt for Missing Tennessee Woman

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(PARSONS, Tenn.) -- Volunteers searching for Holly Bobo, the Tennessee woman who was apparently snatched from her home and led into the woods by a camouflage-wearing stranger, have found a "significant" item, the Decatur County sheriff said.

Officials said they could not disclose what it was that was recovered because doing so would jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.

However, the discovery has fueled their search in Northern Decatur County and was based on a telephone tip, the sheriff said.

Investigators believe Bobo's abductor lives in or near the 20-year-old college student's town of Parsons, Tenn.  They have asked Bobo's neighbors to report any unusual activity or a break in peoples' routines they might have noticed in recent days.

"The person responsible for Holly's disappearance lives in the area," said Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. "Because of the terrain, you have to know where you're going, entrances and exits. We feel the person is in the community.”

Police have collected several pieces of evidence in the woods near Bobo's home, but Gwyn said it could be days before those objects could be analyzed and positively linked to Bobo.

In the meantime, the only evidence police have found and made public is Bobo's lunch purse and some blood.

Gwyn said it is possible Bobo's abductor led the woman to a vehicle parked left on a road accessible through the woods, and drove away.

He said investigators still believe Bobo is in the state, but the FBI would get involved if there was evidence to suggest otherwise.

More than a thousand people have volunteered to help search the dense woods for any sign of Holly Bobo. The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever abducted her is up to $80,000, including $50,000 from the state.

Investigators have not ruled anyone out as a suspect in Bobo's disappearance and are in the midst of analyzing key evidence, although police had earlier said that Bobo's brother -- the last person to see her -- and boyfriend are not suspects.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Manhunt Continues for Colorado Mall Bomb Suspect

Federal Bureau of Investigation(LITTLETON, Colo.) -- The man who is now the subject of a nationwide manhunt was released from federal prison just seven days before allegedly rigging two propane tanks and a pipe bomb to explode in a crowded Colorado shopping mall, ABC News has learned.

Records from the Federal Bureau of Prisons indicate Earl Albert Moore, 65, was released on April 13. It is not immediately clear where Moore had been held, but he was serving a six-year sentence for bank robbery.

Law enforcement officials are being tight-lipped about any motive Moore may have had for trying to explode the bombs in the mall.

Police noted several similarities between the mall attack and the 1999 Columbine massacre. Both attacks took place on the same date, April 20, and at approximately the same time. Both used propane tanks and pipe bombs placed in similar areas -- the high school cafeteria in 1999 and the mall food court last week.

Columbine High School is just over a mile from the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink has indicated, however, that even though the incident took place on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, he does not believe it was meant to be a copycat crime.

"It's not pointing that way quite frankly, preliminarily," Mink told ABC News. "There's a lot of dissimilarities that would make this a unique incident."

The FBI announced Sunday that it has mounted a nationwide manhunt for Moore, who is considered armed and dangerous.

He is described as 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall, bald, with a gray mustache and multiple tattoos on his arms, including a rose, a dagger and a helmeted Viking.

The bombing attempt was discovered Wednesday afternoon when firefighters responded to a small blaze at the Southwest Plaza Mall and found a pipe bomb and propane tanks in a hallway near the mall's food court. No one was injured and the devices did not explode.

The incident came on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, when two students opened fire and killed 12 students and one teacher on April 20, 1999.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cleanup Continues in St. Louis Following Tornado

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) -- St. Louis' Lambert Airport opened Saturday night for some arriving flights after a tornado caused such terrible damage to the main terminal on Friday.

The storm ripped part of the roof off the airport's main concourse, blew out glass windows and wreaked havoc on the runway, damaging a handful of planes.

"It's going to take a while before the C concourse can be functional," airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said. "A good portion of the roof is absolutely gone, every window is out of that as well as extensive damage to a number of the actual restaurants and stuff in the concourse."

She said one passenger jet was severely damaged and five or six others sustained lesser damage.

Officials hoped to restore the airport to 70 percent operating capacity by Sunday, though they cautioned that to achieve that, they need to first restore electricity to the facility. The damaged concourse will be closed for the coming months.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said today that already crews have made dramatic progress cleaning things up at the airport.

Gov. Jay Nixon said 750 homes in the region were damaged and that President Obama pledged federal assistance during a phone conversation. The tornado also caused widespread damage and power outages in St. Louis County, and power company officials said many could remain in the dark until Monday.

The National Weather Service reported damage consistent with winds gusting over 135 miles per hour during the brunt of the storm.

Most of the danger at the airport resulted from shattered glass, which was sent flying when approximately half of the windows in Terminal 1 blew in as the storm hit.

Despite the damage, officials said they were relieved that only five people were hospitalized due to injuries sustained at the airport, and that all of them were treated and released.

According to the National Weather Service, the storm was one of about two dozen tornadoes that hit across five Midwest states Friday, and it is likely that there are more to come, especially in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gabrielle Giffords to Attend Shuttle Launch

Office of Gabrielle Giffords(NEW YORK) -- Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has reportedly been cleared by doctors to attend her husband’s space shuttle launch on Friday.

ABC News has confirmed that Giffords, who was injured in a shooting in Tuscon, Arizona on January 8, has received medical clearance to attend the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, scheduled for Friday at 3:47 p.m. EST in Florida. Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly is commanding the last flight of the space shuttle.

Sources tell ABC News Giffords is set to fly out to the Kennedy Space Center from Houston on Wednesday.

Kelly has said for weeks that he wanted his wife to attend the launch, and that Giffords had indicated to him she wanted to go.

Giffords was injured during a shooting spree while meeting with constituents outside of a Safeway grocery. Six people were killed in the shooting and 12 others were injured. Giffords survived a gunshot wound to the left hemisphere of her brain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Endangered Whale Species Grazing Off Coast of Cape Cod

ABC News(BOSTON) -- There are only a few hundred right whales in the North Atlantic, but in 2011 beachgoers in Cape Cod have been treated to a rare sight -- at least 100 of the endangered creatures have been counted in the area, grazing in mass just off the shoreline.

"The current must be piling the plankton up," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo of the Center for Coastal Studies. "(There's) a patch of food, of unbelievable richness that's just stretching right along this edge."

The unusually high abundance of plankton this year, numbering in the tens of thousands, is making for a delicious feast for the whales and a special sight for enthusiasts of this rare mammal.

But marine scientists are baffled why the supply of the tiny, shrimp-like creatures the whales subsist on, is so plentiful this year, so they're testing the water, using a hose rig that takes samples from different levels.

North Atlantic right whales, characterized by visible rough patches on their heads and distinctive snouts, can grow to be 50 feet long and weigh up to 90 tons.

Right whales got their name in the 19th century because they were the "right" whales to hunt -- slow swimming and peaceful. Slaughtered in the tens of thousands, only 100 remained in 1935 when the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling took effect.

While still listed as critically endangered, right whales are making a comeback -- making this rare sight special for spectators.

"They're so big and magnificent, you just see them and ... it gives you chills," said Deb Gustavson, a whale enthusiast. "They're amazing."

One hundred of the mammals have been counted in the area this past week, and researchers estimate there are at least double that number nearby.

In fact, there are so many right whales that the State of Massachusetts has warned boaters to steer clear of the animals. Federal law also dictates that boats must keep a 500-foot distance from the animals unless they have a research permit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pastor Says 'Church Sucks,' so Come to Church

George Doyle/Thinkstock(FORLSOM, Calif.) -- The signs around Folsom, Calif., said "Church Sucks," but the man who put them up said the message behind them is more complex than it seems.

"It's just inflammatory enough to get attention and yet we have something to say," Stu Streeter, the man who put them up, told ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento.

Streeter is the pastor of Disciples Church, a small storefront in a strip mall, and he said the signs and a newspaper ad campaign that carried the same message were created for people who don't go to church.

"This campaign for us is just a simple way to call out the elephant in the room and say, 'Hey, maybe you don't go to church because you'll think you'll be an outsider or you think power will be abused," Streeter said. "Well, it doesn't have to be that way."

In all he put up 200 of the signs around the city, and some he put on trailers that he drove around to get the message out.

The signs advertised the church's website, which makes the pastor's perhaps irreverent reverence a bit more clear.

"Church Sucks, sometimes. But we're not content with that," the website says. "Jesus didn't suck, and neither should His church. And you're invited to help!"

But it was a message that was met with anger by many of the city's residents.

"Most of the signs were pulled down by angry neighbors and some from city officials and others from people who just didn't understand," Streeter said.

Streeter planned to start giving sermons related to the "Church Sucks" campaign on Sunday, and said he hoped to see many new faces in his congregation. He said he'll wear jeans and sneakers, like his congregations, and hoped that people will see how his friendly congregation is learning to follow Jesus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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