Branson, Missouri: After Tornado,Tourists Welcomed

Mar 1, 2012 1:55pm
ap branson tornado jef 120301 wblog Branson, Missouri: After Tornado,Tourists Welcomed

(Image credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo)

Photos of tornado damage in Branson, Mo., show wrecked cars and smashed buildings, but the show must go on in the entertainment center.  The debris had barely settled when the town’s public relations pros distributed a press release titled:  ”Branson recovery already underway after brush with tornado.”

Branson, which has a population of about 10,000 according to the U.S. Census, had a close encounter with a tornado earlier on Wednesday.  Gary Groman, media relations for the Branson, which is called the Midwest’s music theater capital, said the population of the town can swell to hundreds of thousands of people on the weekends.

“Initial reports indicate that there were no fatalities, although a significant number of minor injuries and property damage were reported,” Branson’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau said on Wednesday afternoon.

Groman, who was not aware of the release, told ABC News on Thursday the EF2 tornado had a relatively narrow base, skipping certain spots of the town. The “Branson strip,” which refers to the theaters, restaurants and other attractions along the part of Highway 76 that runs through the town, is open this morning though it was closed yesterday, Groman said.

He said about four or more of the town’s 50 theaters were hit by the tornado while the vast majority were not badly damaged.

About a dozen of the more than 200 hotels in the town “have sustained significant damage as a result of the storms” but the Branson Airport was unaffected by the storms, the convention bureau said.

The Branson Variety Theater is closed pending repairs, and a spokeswoman said ticket holders can call the theater for a refund or to make arrangements for another time. The Americana Theatre is closed for repairs and its calls are being re-routed to the RFD-TV theater, which hosts the Roy Rogers, Jr. show. Trey Pelz, the general manager of the RFD-TV theater said the majority of shows and hotels in Branson are still open for business.

“The town is at about 80 percent and within a month or two, we’ll be back to 100 percent,” Pelz said.

The release stated that major attractions such as Silver Dollar City, Sight and Sound Theatre, and Showboat Branson Belle, TITANIC Museum Attraction, Tanger Outlet Mall, and numerous theatres, attractions, restaurants and retail stores are “undamaged and remain open and welcoming visitors to the Live Music Show Capital of the World.”

“We are extremely thankful that there was no reported loss of life due to the tornado that struck Branson on the morning of February 29, and our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who did lose loved ones as a result of this large storm system that affected much of the Midwest,” Branson’s city administrator, Dean Kruithof,  said in the statement.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Deb Peterson received the emailed press release and wrote a brief story entitled, “Branson tornado doesn’t dim trolling for tourists.”

“Given an EF2 tornado hit Branson, we were very blessed,” Gorman said. “There were no fatalities and relatively minor injuries. The impact on tourism and the economy was minor but drastic on those hit directly.”

Several states were affected by the tornadoes and thunder storms, including the hardest hit town of Harrisburg, Ill., in which at least six people were killed.

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