Tornado survivors tell their stories
04/15/2012 5:00 AM
08/05/2014 6:54 PM
Tornadoes can do the strangest things.
Chrissy Hart, 32, heeded Saturday’s storm warnings, left her home in the 5100 block of Meadowview Avenue in Oaklawn and waited out the night’s fury at her mother’s house. She returned later to find her house riddled with damage.
Shortly before noon Sunday, Hart was searching for anything salvageable. And then she saw it. Her Michael Jackson CD, “This is It,” sitting undisturbed on top of a stereo speaker next to an outside wall that was no longer there.
“Oh, my gosh!” she cried as she spotted it.
A tornado wipes out a wall, yet leaves an item weighing less than a few ounces untouched.
Hart sighed with gratitude. Not just because of the rescued CD. She was OK, her neighbors were OK. Property? Not so good.
“I don’t have a place to live,” Hart said, “but I’m grateful because I still have something. I don’t know what to do.”
So she hugged one of her next-door neighbors, Connie Force.
“I’ll never be able to find neighbors again as good as you,” Hart said through tears.
Connie, 50, and her husband, Bob, 59, also had their house demolished. Their truck and car were smashed.
She survived by hiding in a closet. He flipped a couch over the top of him — right where a tree limb slammed through a window.
As chain-saws whirred away all over their block Sunday, the Forces picked through what remained inside. Terry Force, their son, came over to help.
“Dad, we need to get some respirator masks,” Terry said. “I can’t breathe in there.”
Piles of grayish-colored insulation, fallen from the collapsed ceiling, lay inches deep. Every step kicked up choking dust. Someone found dust masks, and everyone put one on.
This was Bob’s fifth tornado. He survived four others in western Kansas.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it through this one,” he said.
The Forces had only four more years left before the house was paid off.
Over the deafening roar of the chain-saws cutting up the fallen trees littering the neighborhood, Chrissy yelled to Connie, “Hey, maybe now I can get that new carpet.”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Connie said, with a little chuckle.
– Rick Plumlee
A tiny feline survivor
More than 14 hours after a tornado blew a hole through his father’s house in Oaklawn and scattered debris across the area, Ken Gardner heard a tiny meow.
He started digging through the rubble Sunday afternoon and found a tiny tiger-striped kitten, scared but alive.
Gardner pulled the kitten out, took it inside his father’s house, and gave it some milk.
His father, Larry Gardner, slept through the tornado that damaged his home Saturday night, including a hole the size of a soccer ball that went through the outside wall next to his bedroom. A Sedgwick County sheriff’s officer knocked on his door around 11:30 p.m. or midnight, he said, but he went back to bed.
“There’s nothing I could have done. It was dark,” Larry Gardner said.
He said he doesn’t know where the kitten came from or how it ended up beneath rubble from his backyard tool shed. But he plans to keep the cat.
He named it Twister.
– Rick Plumlee
Rescuers dig 88-year-old out of rubble
Pearl Sipult’s family members don’t know how the 88-year-old widow survived a tornado that flattened her home in the 5100 block of Brooklawn.
“We thought she was dead,” said Sipult’s granddaughter, Teila Hamm.
Chris Rogers, Sipult’s great-grandson, said he called her around 9 p.m. Saturday and urged her to take shelter at a nearby church. She didn’t because she has a hard time getting around.
“Call me when it’s getting close,” she told Rogers.
By the time he tried to reach her again, it was too late. Sipult huddled in an interior hallway as the tornado tore through, destroying her home. She was buried in rubble.
More than two hours after the storm, a neighbor heard her calling and dug through rubble to find her. Another neighbor transported her to a local hospital. Sipult had several cuts that required stitches and a large bump and bruise over one eye.
Later, Sipult told Hamm to go back to her home and retrieve her “burial money,” which she had hidden under a mattress.
“I think she was kind of dazed, because she didn’t realize there wasn’t a bedroom anymore,” Hamm said.
– Rick Plumlee
Shed from backyard ends up in front
Oaklawn resident Rose Anne Bura went to a neighbor’s basement to ride out Saturday’s tornado.
When she returned to her home on South Hemlock around 11 p.m., an 8-by-8-foot wooden shed that used to be in her backyard was sitting in the front yard. It had been blown off its foundation and tossed over her house.
“Dorothy called,” said a man who was moving limbs out of the street. “She wants her house back.”
“What about Toto?” Bura answered.
“Keep the dog,” the man replied. “She’s tired of feeding him.”
– Rick Plumlee
A house with photos on walls, but no roof
Tony and Barbara Cline, who live near the Meadow Lake Beach area, had just come home from watching a play on Saturday, and were surprised to see how ominous the news on television was. Weather people were telling everyone in the area to get underground. The Clines did so, huddling in the basement.
When the storm hit, and they heard a crash, Tony put Barbara in the downstairs bathtub, and laid down on her to protect her.
They heard the roof rip off.
The walls of their house still stand. The living room is filled with mounds of loose insulation, mounds on the floor, mounds on the coffee tables, mounds on the sofa. Outside, their two vehicles, a GMC Jimmy and a Hyundai Sonata, lay under piles of broken house lumber.
On Sunday morning, Tony Cline appeared to be in an upbeat mood. Calm, friendly and courteous, he let everybody interview him who wanted to do so, including the folks from the national cable television crew that parked their satellite truck in front of his house.
But Barbara stood in the living room, crying, holding a small dog named Daisy who rode out the storm behind the coach. “I’m feeling okay, but I think I need to work on her a little bit,” Tony Cline said, nodding at Barbara.
With the sky directly overhead, Tony stood in their house and pondered the odd destructive nature of tornadoes. The roof is gone, but all of the family photos are still hanging on the walls. Photos are in their place in stands on the kitchen cabinets, even though the ceiling that was once only inches above them now is now gone.
– Roy Wenzl
‘I thought we were having a hurricane’
Pam Oshel, whose house and yard in Oaklawn sustained heavy damage, said the tornado hit around 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Her husband, Wayne, and 30-year-old son, Jessie, who lives across the street, were outside watching the storm, she said.
“You know how men are. They just had to watch,” said Pam Oshel, who lives at 4659 Hemlock, near 47th South and Clifton. “I told them to get in here.”
When the men finally came into the house, it took all three of them to close the front door, she said.
“I thought we were having a hurricane, with all the rain and hail,” Pam Oshel said. “There was an explosion. I thought a tree was coming through the house.”
After the storm passed, the Oshels checked on neighbors, including a 90-year-old woman who lives next door. Everyone was OK.
– Rick Plumlee
Family takes shelter in closet
Fourteen-year-old Darlene Guerra said she and her siblings didn’t think Saturday’s storms would hit their house on Hemlock Court in Oaklawn.
“We always hear the sirens but nothing ever happens,” said Darlene, an eighth-grader at Derby Middle School.
This time, something did.
Darlene’s father, Israel Guerra, was outside watching the storm clouds shortly before the tornado came through.
“I was hoping it was going to miss us like it has all the other times,” he said. “We were watching on the radar and it looked like it was going to the west of Oaklawn.”
By the time he heard a roaring sound and ran back into the house, two boards from a wooden fence slammed through the living room window.
“That’s when I got scared, too,” Israel Guerra said. “The kids were screaming.”
The family — Israel, his wife, Irma, and three children — crouched inside a closet for several minutes. After the storm passed, they used the boards from their fence to patch their broken window.
– Rick Plumlee
Man put off fixing storm shelter a bit too long
John Parker got a hard lesson on the dangers of procrastination Saturday night.
The longtime Oaklawn resident experienced a tornado more than 21 years ago. Shortly afterward, he built an underground storm shelter in his backyard.
But the door latch broke and needed to be welded.
“I’ve been putting that stuff off, you know how it is,” said Parker, 82. “I have to get it fixed. Doesn’t do any good the way it is.”
When tornadoes threatened the area Saturday night, David Parker, who lives next door, knew his parents couldn’t use the shelter.
“If you go down there, you’d just get sucked out,” he said.
So David Parker huddled in an interior hallway of his house. His parents hunkered down in their house with three great-grandchildren, ages 11 months to 6 years.
The storm heavily damaged their block, but none of the Parkers were hurt.
“It’s a setback for everybody” in Oaklawn, David Parker said Sunday morning. “But you’ll get over it.”
– Rick Plumlee
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