ST. LOUIS — More than nine days after storms devastated the St. Louis area, cleanup continues at two of the St. Louis area's largest cemeteries.
The skies have cleared over Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, but President and CEO Sherry Smith still can’t believe what she saw once the storms passed.
“It was complete devastation,” said Sherry Smith, President and CEO of Bellefontaine Cemetery & Arboretum. The roadways were impassable. There was debris everywhere. It was really unimaginable.”
For the past nine days, Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum has remained closed.
“Our sole purpose is safety,” said Smith. “We’re still conducting funerals, so we have to strategically comb through the areas making sure it’s safe with no widow makers hanging from the trees and that it’s safe to walk on the lots.”
That’s proven to be a challenge with at least 40 trees toppled across the 314-acre property revealing long abandoned utilities along roads that were partially washed away.
"We sustained very little monument damage,” said Smith. “We know there's going to be some. We're not sure what yet until we get through everything. You will drive by and you'll see places where limbs split and they're lying on each side of a monument. That always makes us smile and makes us feel like we're being watched over."
While Bellefontaine expects to reopen on a limited basis within 2-3 weeks, at nearby Calvary Cemetery work is still underway to clear many of the roads so that crews can get in to assess the damage.
“This is the worst damage we’ve ever seen,” said Matthew DeWitt, Managing Director of Calvary Cemetery. “Frankly, it’s like a tornado came through. These are sacred grounds. These are second to our churches in what they mean to us.”
Dewitt estimates that somewhere between 80 and 100 trees were downed during the storm which damaged multiple plots.
“It will take us several weeks before we begin notifying families just because we can’t even get to the stones right now,” DeWitt said.
Since each plot is purchased it’s up to the descendants to pay to replace damaged headstones, which Dewitt says are covered by homeowners insurance.
“Everyone buried at Calvary are important to someone still, including those who are our most famous and those who are known only to god,” DeWitt said. “Our message would be to be patient with us. We’re doing our best.”
Due to the safety concerns, you're being asked to please avoid the cemeteries until the cleanup is complete.
Managers at both sites are encouraging you to follow along with the cleanup on their social media sites.