In Branson, the show must go on

BRANSON, Mo. - City officials in Branson are promising to have the popular resort town ready for the upcoming tourist season.

An EF2 tornado touched down early Wednesday in what many consider the country music capital of the world, leaving severe damage behind to the town's theater district along MO-76 Highway.

The main strip reopened to traffic Thursday morning, a little more than 24 hours after the powerful twister injured dozens and damaged several of the town's iconic buildings.

As crews worked to continue cleanup efforts, the first priority was to restore power to the area. Much of the country music resort town remained in the dark Thursday morning.

Before the sun rose, the only lights were bright spotlights shining on the debris fields left behind.

Crews are working around the clock, but there was no immediate word on when power would be restored to those left in the dark.

"My kids had to go to my dad's house," said Randi Gonzalez, a Branson resident who works at a local hotel. "We just didn't know what else to do with them."

Many of Branson's popular attractions, like Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, escaped damage, though they've been forced to close for a night or two.

But as close as right across the street, you can see evidence of the nation's hop-scotch pattern of attack. Dick Clark's American Bandstand took a direct hit. The tornado ripped off the back of the building, destroying the theater entrance.

Some attractions remain open, but a utility truck was the only sign of life Wednesday night at the unscathed Hollywood wax museum.

Portions of the town, including where a vitamin store and a strip mall once stood, were entirely closed off to the public, as the piles of rubble included downed power lines.

While some tourists already in Branson said they plan to stay in town, Gonzalez said her hotel took many cancellations on Tuesday.

"The phone didn't stop ringing all day long," she said. "Some of them didn't cancel their reservations, some of them said ‘maybe we'll come down next year."

Others say the influx of workers and insurance adjusters needed to help with the town's recovery will help balance out that deficit.

After several years of a down economy, Branson city leaders were really counting on a big year when Tourist Season begins next week. They're asking people to please come back and they promise to be up and running.

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