Tornadoes rake Wichita area, causing significant damage

04/14/2012 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 6:54 PM

A tornado swept through south Wichita on Saturday, causing significant damage but apparently no major injuries.

Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems took a direct hit, officials said, as did the Oaklawn neighborhood and a mobile home park.

Preliminary reports said 100 trailers in the mobile home park were damaged when the storm hit shortly before 10:30 p.m. In the Oaklawn area, two homes were destroyed and several others were damaged. Two residents were taken by ambulance to area hospitals, while many others were injured but did not go to the hospital.

In all, hospitals reported seeing about a dozen patients as a result of the storm in the metro area, which also left thousands of customers without power.

At nearby Spirit AeroSystems, six buildings were significantly damaged and four others had major damage.

A preliminary assessment by city and county officials estimated the overall loss in the Wichita area to be as much as $283 million.

At 12:25 a.m., Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tim Norton declared a state of disaster, which will initiate an emergency plan and notify state officials that additional support and assistance may be needed. Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency.

Pinaire Mobile Home Park near 52nd Street South and Clifton was heavily damaged, and in the middle of the complex a fire that was apparently caused by a ruptured gas line was burning.

Kristin Dean, who lives in the park, said she was one of 75 to 100 people who took refuge in the park’s shelter.

“Things were flying and everyone screamed,” she said. “We all kind of huddled together.”

She said the noise from the storm lasted 15 to 20 seconds. When it was over, she said, some trailers were on fire and others were missing.

Power lines were down, she said, and car windows were broken. The smell of natural gas filled the air.

She said the park was “pretty much gone. It’s devastating, but you know, we’re alive.”

Emergency vehicles were having trouble getting to the park because of extensive damage to trees and power lines in the area. Many emergency responders arrived on foot.

Sedgwick County spokeswoman Kristi Zukovich said officials were still trying to assess the damage at midnight. She said officials were asking people to stay out of an area bounded by 39th and 63rd streets south, and Hydraulic and K-15, so emergency workers can get in.

Shortly after the storm – which swept up from Oklahoma and through Sumner County – residents of the park were shouting the names of family members who were missing. Other residents were asking people to be quiet so they could hear the voices of people who might be trapped in the debris.

Many residents were gathering at the entrance to the park.

Christine Moyer, who lives in the park, said she took cover in the park’s shelter just as what she described as a “skinny tornado” hit.

Among those gathered at 47th and Clifton after the storm was Pam Thurman of Belle Plaine. She and a fellow nurse, Toni Bowman of Wellington, drove to the area after hearing about the damage.

“We’re nurses,” Thurman said. “It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Maria Silvers, who lives in Oaklawn, said she rode out the storm at a fire station in Derby along with 150 other people and a lot of pets.

The Red Cross dispatched four disaster assessment teams and opened a shelter at the Derby Recreation Center at 3 a.m. Sunday.

At Boeing, spokesman Forrest Gossett said the plant “took a direct hit.” A skeleton crew was on duty, he said, but there were no immediate reports of injuries. The company won’t be able to assess the damage until morning, he said.

At Spirit AeroSystems, part of the side of the manufacturing process facility was gone. The plant was without power and officials said six buildings were significantly damaged and four were left with major damage.

“It’s substantial,” said Spirit AeroSystems spokeswoman Debbie Gann.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Debris lined MacArthur Road along the plant.

Spirit spokesman Jarrod Bartlett later said that the plant is suspending operations because of the damage. Spirit Employees scheduled to work Sunday should not report to work unless they are directly contacted, he said.

“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our employees,” Bartlett said. “We will not be able to fully assess the damage tonight.”

To the northeast, Hawker-Beechcraft reported damage to a roof, with parts of it landing on Webb Road.

USD 259 officials also reported damage to a new roof at Colvin Elementary School.

In a storm assessment at 2 a.m., Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp told The Eagle that damage was significant in south Wichita, southeast Wichita and in southeast Sedgwick County.

He said emergency crews were still dealing with a gas leak and hazardous materials at Spirit.

Darkness and continuing storms, which stretched past 4 a.m., were hampering damage assessment, Crisp said.

The fire marshal reiterated that people should stay out of damage areas throughout the day Sunday to make way for emergency crews.

Although Crisp said he had heard no reports of people who might be trapped in the aftermath of the storm, there was at least one report of a man unaccounted for early Sunday morning.

The storm that hit the mobile home park was part of a strong system that moved across Kansas, churning up dozens of reported tornadoes but causing no deaths or major damage elsewhere across the state by early this morning.

The system spawned at least six tornadoes in rural western Kansas on Saturday afternoon, including one north of Dodge City that was on the ground for about half an hour.

As the storms swept across the state, a large tornado skirted the city limits of Salina on Saturday evening as another tornado 90 miles away threatened the Reno County city of Pretty Prairie.

In Butler County, emergency officials felt like they dodged a major disaster.

El Dorado residents told Butler County emergency management officials that several large trees, some as much as a yard in diameter, had fallen south and west of the county courthouse.

The storms did little damage to downtown Wichita, but caused major street flooding.

Patrons of Heroes Sports Bar didn’t evacuate when tornado sirens sounded, although a plan was in place had more severe weather come their way. Early warnings kept most people away from downtown on Saturday, with sparse crowds populating the area after a Miranda Lambert concert and the storms.

"We have a basement that we could’ve put people in if things would have got worse," Heroes manager Eric Davisson said. "The most we saw was the flooding, and when the rain stopped we checked for damage around the back and front and there was nothing."

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management activated its emergency operations center in Topeka to monitor the storms and prepare to provide assistance needed. But as dusk settled over the state, it appeared that little help was needed.

Emergency management officials said initial reports indicated that structural damage was limited to outbuildings and one home in Rush County.

Minor wind damage was reported in Russell County, where K-18 was closed near Luray and Lucas due to power lines on the road. Minor flooding was reported in low-lying areas around the state.

Concerns about the storm outbreak prompted McConnell Air Force Base to relocate 16 aerial refueling tankers to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, said base spokeswoman Lt. Jessica Brown.

Damage from the storm was reported at McConnell and at the Kansas Aviation Museum, including to its B-47 display.

It was just the second time that the Storm Prediction Center issued a high-risk warning more than 24 hours in advance. The first was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes tore across the southeastern U.S., killing a dozen people and damaging more than 1,000 homes in Tennessee.

Saturday’s storm system was spread widely across the Midwest, but it failed to produce that kind of damage. Baseball-size hail was reported in parts of northeast Nebraska, and there were predawn tornado warnings in Oklahoma City, where at three possible tornadoes were reported west and north of the city.

The threat of severe weather was expected to move out south-central Kansas on Sunday. Forecasters predict that it will remain windy with a high near 70.

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