KY3 Flashback: Pierce City, Mo., community reflects on devastating May 4, 2003 tornado

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:22 PM CDT|Updated: May. 4, 2023 at 6:41 PM CDT
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PIERCE CITY, Mo. (KY3) - On May 4, 2003, a strong tornado damaged parts of the historic buildings in Pierce City, Missouri.

The original plan was to demolish the old buildings and build a new Pierce City. However, Norma Bacarisse, one building’s owner, put her foot down and fought for the survival of these historic buildings. She purchased one of the original Pierce City buildings in 2002 and was determined to save her storefront and two apartments filled with history.

When the F-3 tornado damaged parts of the buildings, the power went out. City officials began restoring power for some areas, but not the historic strip of buildings.

Pierce City tornado left historic buildings damaged
Pierce City tornado left historic buildings damaged(ky3)

“I said, we’re not taking this building down. When are you going to restore our electricity here? Oh, no, none of these buildings are going to stay, he said. They are all coming down,” Bacarisse recalled.

Despite neighbors’ advice to rebuild and tear down the old buildings, Bacarisse was determined to save them. She picked up the phone and called an attorney, who advised her that she had every right to fight for the survival of her property.

“They kept saying, ‘You can rebuild, just take it all down Norma,’ or ‘there’s no point in trying to save all that, just take it all down,’ and I said I can’t afford to build what I have here,” Bacarisse explained.

While obvious repairs had to be done to keep the structures safe, she and fellow building owners found no reason to tear down the strip of buildings. They fought back and forth with developers for months. Neighboring businesses in the area and various community members supported her, which kept Pierce City the way it has always been remembered.

A community-wide discussion about the Pierce City tornado will be held on May 12 at South Park. The event, originally scheduled for May 4, has been rescheduled due to rain. The event will feature free food, entertainment, and a moment of silence for the life lost during the storm.

It is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. and end at 7:04 p.m. when the tornado struck the town.

Organizers recommend bringing something to sit on, sip, and side dishes to share with the community.

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