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Winds rip through area

Linda Weller lweller@civitasmedia.com

February 20, 2014

ALTON — Thursday afternoon’s sudden, powerful gusts of winds and hard-hitting rain apparently contributed to one crash at Rock Spring Park that injured a woman.


Shortly after the storm kicked up in Alton, at 3:12 p.m. a woman’s eastbound sedan went over the north curb along College Avenue and plunged down the soggy hill about 90 feet into a water-filled ditch.


Chief Bernie Sebold, of the Alton Fire Department, said it is unclear if a tree had fallen on the woman’s silver, Hyundai Elantra or if she had run into a fallen tree or utility pole on College Avenue before leaving the road.


The woman’s identity and age were not available.


Sebold said she was semi-conscious when Alton firefighters arrived at the crash, which was off the first road to the left off the main entryway, at College Avenue and Rock Springs Drive.


The car, which had Arkansas license plates, was lodged nose-first in water near some colorful holiday cutouts that remain from the Christmas Wonderland light display.


The ditch was full of quick-moving, muddy water and the top of the car had smashed onto the woman’s body.


Sebold said it appeared the driver, sole occupant of the car, had suffered a head injury.


“The only visible injury was a head injury,” Sebold said. “She did not know what happened or where she was.”


Once Alton firefighters disentangled and extricated the victim, paramedics from AFD and Alton Memorial Ambulance Service treated her at the scene and the ambulance took her to nearby Alton Memorial Hospital.


The rescue was complicated, though.


Responding firefighters had to turn around on College Avenue once they were by the park because of the downed electric lines, Sebold said. They had to turn around the trucks, go back up College Avenue hill to the west and turn north on Holman Street to access the western entry to the park. Once inside, they had to cut the chain on the security gate.


“Capt. (Ron) Scott got inside the vehicle with the patient,” Sebold said. “They had to do a full roof removal using a hydraulic spreader and hydraulic cutter. It took 15 minutes. They also had to use and hand-held hydraulic cutter to cut off half of her steering wheel that was on her lap.”


During that time, that section of College Avenue was closed so Forestry Division staff in the Alton Park and Recreation Department could cut and remove the downed tree. An Ameren crew soon was on the scene to clear the street of wires and repair the lines.


Among damage around Alton, the door at Jack-in-the Box, 1649 Washington Ave., was blown off and its glass shattered, spreading into the parking lot. An employee said no one was injured.


The long-in-coming renovation of the old Cracker Factory building, in the 200 block of East Broadway, had one of its new windows blown out. Glass was blown onto East Broadway and Easton Street; the building was severely damaged in a wind storm in May 2009.


Tarpaper also was hanging from the roof and blowing in the wind on top of My Just Desserts, 31 E. Broadway.


The large quantity of water, though, flooded through city sewer pipes and cleaned out quantities of leaves that had been inside since last fall.


Storm damage around the area

The National Weather Service St. Louis issued a high wind advisory in effect at the time gusts in Alton reached 63 miles per hour, meteorologist Jon Carney said Thursday.


Gradient wind resulted from what Carney described as a strong high pressure system over Texas and low pressure over northeast Iowa producing a temperature difference between the two pressure systems causing non-thunderstorm, non-tornado induced wind. He said gradient wind occurs a few times a year and that it is not uncommon.


Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye, Jr. said two accidents involving tractor trailers were caused by severe winds. A tractor trailer blew over on Interstate 70 near mile marker 28, and another on Illinois Route 255 near Godfrey. Dye said the crash on Interstate 70 involved possible injuries to the driver, but he was unsure of the driver’s condition as of press time. A third semi-truck was reportedly overturned on Interstate 270 near Interstate 255.​


According to Ameren Illinois’ website, Madison County experienced 3,074 outages around 4 p.m. Thursday. The most outages were in East Alton, where 1,109 customers — more than 20 percent of the city — were without power. The next largest outage was in Collinsville, where 652 customers were experiencing outages. In Wood River, 541 customers were without power, and 213 customers endured outages in Alton.


“There’s a really strong cold front going through,” Carney said to The Telegraph at approximately 5:15 p.m. Thursday. “It’s pure, straight-line wind from a really strong pressure gradient associated with this cold front.”


Carney noted that all storm systems within the metro St. Louis region had moved east by the time the wind came up. In Alton, noticeable changes in weather conditions for the day, which included a brief stint of rain, started around 3 p.m. Thursday.


“This cold front is going to bring much colder air to the region,” he added. “Over the next few days we’ll slowly fall back below normal.”


He said Friday and Saturday temperatures would be go from the mid 50s to 50 degrees; Sunday and Monday would be in the mid 30s; and Tuesday and Wednesday in the low 30s.


“Then we’re looking for the lows to fall back into the teens and 20s,” Carney said.


Linda N. Weller may be reached at (618) 463-2559 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller. Telegraph staff writers Jill Moon and Nathan Grimm contributed to this report.