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Powerful storms force Omaha airport closure

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Omaha airport was closed Thursday after violent storms brought high winds and massive hail, officials said.
The Omaha airport was closed Thursday after violent storms brought high winds and massive hail, officials said.
  • Injured pilot was conscious when taken to the hospital, airline official says
  • Two storms strike Eppley Airfield in Omaha, packing high winds, hail and rain
  • Southwest Airlines discontinues all flights for the rest of the evening

(CNN) -- Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, was closed Thursday night, stranding hundreds of passengers, after being struck by two violent storms packing high winds and massive hail, the airport director said.

Omaha Airport Authority Executive Director Steve Coufal said that the airfield had been closed for several hours, with at least one reported injury: a pilot who was taken to a local hospital after being struck by hail.

Southwest Airlines spokesperson Ashley Dillon said two of the airline's planes were on the ground -- one of them Flight 751 to Chicago, which was being boarded -- when the first storm hit.

The decision was made to deplane the 137 passengers from the Boeing 737, and a male pilot was struck by hail while standing in the jetway. Dillon said he was conscious when he was transported to the hospital.

Southwest discontinued its flights for the remainder of the night. Dillon said 13 flights were affected: eight arrivals and five departures.

The first storms came through Omaha at about 5:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET). The airport was subsequently shut down so that airport officials could evaluate damage done to equipment. After about an hour-and-a-half, the airport was reopened, but was closed again minutes later when the second storm came through, packing very strong winds and heavy rains, Coufal said.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said hailstones were reportedly up 2.75 inches in diameter, or approximately baseball-sized. Video footage from local CNN affiliate KPTM seemed to confirm that estimate, as the windshields of several cars in the airport parking lot were either shattered or bore large holes and craters.

The airport director said winds of about 100 mph were reported, and visibility was 5-10 feet.

Airport officials were inspecting damage and meeting with transportation officials Thursday night to address passengers' needs.

Coufal said seven commercial planes received some degree of damage, and parked surface vehicles had extensive damage. Also, the roof, some windows and signage were damaged at the facility.

One jet bridge was blown into an aircraft by the winds, according to Coufal.

CNN's Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report.