BRANSON, Mo. — The fact that Branson was prepared paid off big following Wednesday’s tornado, according to city administrator Dean Kruithof.
“Branson is a very storm-ready community,” Kruithof said. “Our hospitality associations, lodgings, our entertainers and attractions are all trained in what to do in case a tornado comes through here. With this storm, we had quite a bit of time in advance. They were tracking the line of storms and we had sirens sounding about 20 minutes before the storm hit.
“We had our resources in place and were ready to go.”
Kruithof is a 1975 graduate of Miami High School. He also is an alum of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Oklahoma State University.
His father, the late J. Donald Kruithof, was pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Miami from 1959-74.
Doug Kruithof has been Branson’s city administrator since June 2008. He has 32 years experience as an administrator, having worked in Wichita, Kan., Stillwater, Pittsburg, Kan., DeKalb, Ill., and most recently, Fort Smith, Ark.
He was deputy city administrator at Fort Smith from 1999 to 2008, when he was hired by the City of Branson.
The majority of the damage from the EF-2 tornado which was part of a system that slammed a huge part of the Midwest, was in localized sections of W 76 Country Blvd. west of Gretna Road/Hwy 165 and the Branson Convention Center area.
According to a Saturday press release from the Branson Convention & Visitors Bureau, only six of the more than 50 theaters and 22 of the more than 200 motels in Branson sustained damage.
Initial estimates are that the convention center will be up and running again in 30 to 60 days. Meetings and conventions that were scheduled there are being contacted about relocation in the area.
At least 33 were injured and there were no fatalities, officials reported Saturday.
FEMA reported Saturday that 71 residential properties sustained damage ranging from slightly affected to total damage. There were 147 commercial properties that sustained damage.
“The shows have already pulled together to let everyone know they are there … they are up and operating,” Kruithof said. Many of the attractions we are known for, like Silver Dollar City, the Duck, Showboat Branson Belle and The Chateau (on the Lake) are completely untouched by this.”
He noted that the first two days after the storm were devoted to recovery and assessment, with clean-up the priority on Friday.
“There are a number of contractors in town already,” Kruithof said. “We are putting our plans into place to get our neighborhoods back to normal and also get our business areas back to normal, as well.”
Kruithof said portions of Branson Landing reopened Friday and the 76 Walmart expected to be open soon.
Plans for the city's centennial celebration and museum opening on April 1 continue, celebration producer Bogie Bohine said in the release.
Branson’s city hall was open Saturday to help with the filing of permits and other paperwork related to the clean-up efforts.
The emergency operation center closed Saturday.
“This is the beginning of our busy season,” Kruithof said. “A lot of businesses want to be up and running as quickly as possible. It’s amazing that just after two days, when you drive up and down 76, the amount of cleanup, the amount of cranes, the amount of construction contractors that are at work trying to get everything rebuilt.”
Ironically, Joplin - which is still recovering from its deadly EF-5 tornado of last May 22 - was one of the first to offer assistance to Branson.
“They were some of the first ones to offer help,” Kruithof said. “We had 10 Joplin police officers that helped spell our people up and down the strip.”
Earlier in the week, Kruithof had invited Joplin city manager Mark Rohr to attend a regional managers meeting to present information on disaster relief.
“I think the big thing everyone learned from Joplin is this can happen anywhere and it can be devastating,” he said. “You get used to the fact there will be storm warnings. That will be in the background and you just go on with your normal life. I think this was the first big spring storm that came though where people paid attention its because of Joplin.”
Updated information on road closures, show schedule changes, affected attractions, restaurants and shops can be found at www.ExploreBranson.com or by calling 800-296-0463.
Kruithof wanted tourists to know one thing: “Was it bad? Yeah. We had a lot of damage, but a lot of things weren’t touched and we are open for business. People who are thinking about coming soon, come on up.”