Jefferson City has been Randy Wright’s home away from Ozark for 10 years.
Wright, the Director of Special Projects in the Governor and First Lady Teresa Parson, previously spent four years on the Ozark Board of Aldermen. His heart for service to others went into action May 22, moments after what the National Weather Service has now confirmed to be an EF-3 tornado struck Jefferson City.
Wright lives in the southern part of Jefferson City and works downtown the site of some of the worst damage. The Jefferson City Police Department reported 20 injuries, but no fatalities from the storm. Photographs show roofs ripped from houses, the front facades of buildings torn away and several downed power lines.
The Governor’s Mansion and the Missouri Capitol were both undamaged, but Wright said some of the worst damage was only two blocks from them. Main arteries such as Capitol Avenue, Main Street and Dunklin Street are impassable in spots.
“There are some sections of downtown Jefferson City that you cannot drive through,” Wright said. “There are a lot of businesses, a lot of restaurants, a lot of people that were affected. They’re determined to rebuild, and yes, it was a very beautiful part of town and it still is. Someday it’ll be restored back to it’s original beauty.”
The tornado struck Jefferson City at about 11:45 p.m. May 22. Wright said he watched the tornado form from his deck, which looks from the south of Jefferson City northward toward the Capitol skyline.
“The lightning actually was striking and you could see the funnel cloud forming,” Wright said. “When it started to hit, the lightning actually went down into the center of that funnel cloud and illuminated it.”
The lightning allowed Wright to identify the tornado. He could also hear it from his vantage point.
“Alarms like crazy started going off in the downtown area,” Wright said.
Wright went to work. On the drive into downtown Jefferson City, he picked up another member of Gov. Parson’s staff, Tanner Isenberger. The entered the historic part of the city moments after the tornado struck.
“It was interesting because debris being in the intersections and the street signs being down, you really didn’t know what intersection you were in when you walked through,” Wright said. “There were people standing outside their homes, and we were asking, ‘Are you OK?’ They were kind of dazed. They were saying, ‘We just got hit, we just got hit.’”
Wright spent more than three hours moving debris like tree limbs from the streets so that emergency vehicles could pass through. He also worked to mark downed power lines, which often stay live when they fall. Wright also took pictures of the damage and shared them with other officials in the governor’s office.
“It was a long night, but to be honest with you, for every limb that we cleared for emergency services, for every person that we asked, ‘Are you OK?’ and for every other thing that we did that night, it was well worth being involved,” Wright said.
The next day, Wright and other members of the governor’s staff got together at a Jefferson City school building and volunteered at a food line, where displaced persons could get something to eat.
Wright served on the Ozark Board of Aldermen from 2012-2016, rising to the post of mayor pro tem. He represented Ward 2, the middle portion of Ozark. Wright worked as chief of staff for State Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, and worked as a legislative assistant to State Rep. Steve Helms, R-Springfield.