ST. LOUIS — Flights are departing the St. Louis airport for the first time since a tornado struck two days ago.
Departures began Sunday morning at Lambert Airport, even as cleanup continued. The C concourse remains closed, but airport and city officials hope to have the airport operating at about 70 percent capacity. However, dozens of departing flights remain canceled.
Complete repairs could take two months.
The tornado that struck the airport Friday night broke panes of glass, tossed a shuttle bus onto a roof and damaged a few planes. Nine St. Louis County communities were also hit. Gov. Jay Nixon says 750 homes in the St. Louis area are damaged.
Five people were injured at Lambert, but none seriously. There were no serious injuries or deaths from the tornado.
Flights began landing at the airport Saturday night, Lambert Airport spokesman Jeff Lea told Reuters, and with power restored, the staff looked to have 70 percent of our facilities functional" on Sunday."
"There have been some planes that have landed," Lea said late Saturday night, adding that the airport was "expecting up to nine flights by midnight," although there could be some delays.Video: Dramatic video shows twister at St. Louis airport (on this page)
A spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines Co. said one of its planes was damaged when the wind pushed a conveyor belt for loading baggage into it. Five other planes on the ground when the tornado hit were OK, spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said. Southwest — the biggest carrier at Lambert, with 85 departures per day — canceled all St. Louis flights through 4 p.m. Saturday.
American Airlines, which operates out of the heavily hit main terminal, said four of its planes were damaged, two of them significantly. American canceled 51 flights on Saturday, five dozen on Sunday and its first seven Monday morning.
Not pretty, but 'functioning'
At the airport windows were broken, debris scattered, and holes blown in the roof of at least one terminal building, but a thousand workers were deployed on Saturday to put things back in order, and initial projections that it could be Monday at the earliest before the airport reopened were quickly rolled back.
"We have spent the day boarding up windows and getting the roof holes buttoned up, cleaning up debris," Lea said. "And terminal one had a lot of glass blown out and we are clearing that out."
"It isn't going to be a pretty terminal but it will be a functioning terminal," Lea said.Video: St. Louis picks up after ‘hell’ of tornado (on this page)
The domed design of the main terminal, dating to the mid-1950s, was the handiwork of Minoru Yamasaki, the Modernist architect of New York City's World Trade Center twin towers toppled in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Elsewhere in the city, debris from splintered homes covered the ground in neighborhoods around St. Louis, while topped trees and overturned cars littered lawns and driveways. From the air, one home looked like a dollhouse that had had its roof lifted off. Looking down, the dining room table and other contents could be seen, damp in lingering rain.
Amid such damage, officials appeared awed that a tornado that roared through the area Friday night, striking the airport and several nearby suburbs, hadn't seriously injured anyone.
Cleanup swung into full gear Saturday. With the din of chain saws and pounding hammers in the background, homeowners sifted through wreckage while crews scrambled to restore power to the 26,000 customers still without it.
At the height of the storm, 47,000 were without power, according to utility Ameren Missouri.
'It just tore everything apart'
Near a highway overpass about 10 miles from downtown St. Louis, trees had been snapped like toothpicks, metal was twisted in piles, broken glass covered the ground.
Among the wrecked building's was 58-year-old chiropractor Dennis Baker's office, which lost its roof in the storm.
"The wind had whipped around inside with such force that it just tore everything apart," Baker told Reuters, mopping his brow as he took a break from clearing debris.
"We found the roof sitting in our parking lot and we just started in trying to get the important stuff out," Baker said, saying he and his wife worked from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. using the light from a small flashlight.Story: Easter spirit endures in tornado-wrecked churches
"We saved the computers and got some tarp up," he said.
Other people swarmed around the wreckage, perhaps two dozen neighbors and relatives chipping in to help save Baker's small business, about one mile from Lambert Airport.
Red Cross readiness and response director Mary Anderson said that while hundreds of people have been displaced: "These are larger houses and I imagine these are families who have somewhere to go, friends, relatives, hotels."
Over the years storms and tornadoes have claimed hundreds of lives in the St. Louis region, one of the most active urban areas for tornadoes in the United States.
The worst tornado in St. Louis history killed 137 people and left 550 injured in 1927 and was the second costliest in U.S. history, according to the St. Louis Public Library.
During a storm in 1973, an Ozark Airlines flight crashed into the University of Missouri-St. Louis while trying to land at Lambert Airport during a severe storm, killing 38 people.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.