April 16, 2012

Tornado cleanup, recovery under way

Plans to receive and give help after Saturday night’s tornado firmed up Monday as power was restored to two schools, some roads reopened, and officials worked on debris removal plans.

Plans to receive and give help after Saturday night’s tornado firmed up Monday as power was restored to two schools, some roads reopened, and officials worked on debris removal plans.

Authorities also arrested two men they said were stealing scrap metal from damaged buildings in Oaklawn.

About 6,000 people remained without electricity, and Westar Energy said it ran into “significant additional damage” as it worked to restore power in Sedgwick County, saying some people may remain without power until Thursday.

The intersection of Harry and Webb and part of southbound Rock Road were reopened Monday after being temporarily closed following the tornado on Saturday night. But cleanup was continuing on other roads that remained closed: northbound Rock Road from Oak Knoll Street to Harry, and both lanes of Pawnee from Woodlawn to Cherry Creek Drive.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management asked people to continue to avoid the storm-damaged areas, particularly the Pinaire Mobile Home Park near South 52nd Street and Clifton and the Oaklawn neighborhood. The traffic caused by onlookers was hampering public safety officials and residents trying to assess damage and clean up, the county said.

Randy Duncan, emergency management director for Sedgwick County, said he had asked the county appraiser to do a parcel-by-parcel review of the tornado-hit area for assessments of how badly damaged they were. Aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be requested unless a certain amount of damage was done, and such determinations have not been made yet, Duncan said.

An initial estimate Saturday night of $283 million in damage was made on the high side, Duncan said.

Joe Pajor, of the city’s Department of Public Works & Utilities, said he would be surprised if the damage estimate in the city would be high enough to qualify for FEMA aid.

The American Red Cross shelter at the Derby Recreation Center, 801 E. Market, remained open Monday night and will stay open longer if needed. People who need a place to stay can call the Red Cross at 316-219-4000.

"The last I heard they were expecting 12 (people) but they are prepared to take in more," Red Cross public affairs officer Brian Scoles said.

Restoring power

The peak number of people without electricity was 26,500 at about 11 p.m. Saturday, Westar Energy said.

While it had hoped to restore most of the power by late this afternoon, “we located significant additional damage as we were working through some of the hardest-hit areas,” Bruce Akin, vice president of power delivery, said Monday in a news release.

“As people are aware, this was a destructive storm. We are reconstructing lines that serve some areas in addition to the many repairs that are needed to restore power.”

More than 400 people are working to restore electrical service, Westar said.

Debris cleanup

Sedgwick County plans to announce a cleanup plan for debris today, but in the meantime, anyone who needs help should ask for it from the United Way of the Plains, said Kristi Zukovich, county communications director.

The United Way on Monday set up a station at Oaklawn Community Center, 2937 Oaklawn Dr., for local residents who suffered tornado damage and who need help cleaning up. People can register from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, identifying the type of cleanup help that they need, and the United Way will coordinate volunteers to begin working today.

The United Way is asking that volunteers no longer report to the Oaklawn Activity Center, but instead park at The Opportunity Project (TOP), 4600 S. Clifton, and report to Light House Community Church, 3401 E. 47th St. Because utility companies need to complete their work, the United Way needs few volunteers today.

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old; some jobs require volunteers to be at least 18. Volunteers should bring the tools they want to use for the cleanup.

For more information about getting or giving help, call the United Way’s 24-hour information line, 211.

People in the city of Wichita who live in the path of Saturday night’s tornado can put tree limbs and brush on the curb for pickup that will start Thursday, the city said Monday.

People who live outside the tornado’s path will have to take care of any brush themselves, said Pajor, the city official. He said the city hasn’t decided whether the tree limbs will be chipped or burned.

Other debris in the city limits, with the exception of hazardous household waste, can be taken to one of four landfills in the area, which will charge a fee: Brooks Landfill, 4100 N. West St.; CDR Landfill, 4250 W. 37th St. North, 316-942-8666; Waste Connections Transfer Station, 4300 W. 37th Street North, 316-941-4320; or Waste Disposal Transfer Station, 5550 W. 55th St. South, 316-522-3633.

The Household Hazardous Waste collection site at 801 Stillwell will accept household hazardous waste including chemicals, paint and batteries. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The phone number is 316-660-7464.

Two men arrested

Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies will be patrolling tornado-stricken areas around the clock “for as long as we need to” to keep scavengers from stealing scrap metal or other valuables, authorities said Monday.

Two men suspected of stealing scrap metal were arrested in Oaklawn on Monday, Capt. Annette Haga said. While they were booked into jail on suspicion of weapons and drug offenses, they were carrying scrap metal and could not say where they got it.

“We are seeing some people come down to the area to pick up scrap metal – some people are letting them have it,” Haga said.

It may be difficult to identify victims of scrap metal theft in Oaklawn and the Pinaire Mobile Home Park because connecting the metal to specific addresses is challenging, Haga said. Authorities plan to be diligent in controlling access to the damaged areas so they will be less vulnerable to thieves.

“We have an increased presence in the area,” Haga said.

The two men who were arrested also had warrants out for their arrest, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said.

Some schools open

Beech and Colvin elementary schools in the Wichita district will both be back in session today, but two other elementary schools damaged by Saturday’s storms – Oaklawn and Cooper elementaries in the Derby district – will remain closed.

While there will be no school at Cooper or Oaklawn schools today, certified staff should report to designated locations, said Litona Bounevongxay of the district. District officials have not said how much damage was done to the two elementary schools in Saturday’s storms or when they are expected to reopen.

For secondary students living in storm-damaged areas, bus transportation to and from Derby schools will continue. Buses will run normal routes for students living on the north side of 47th Street South. For secondary students living south of 47th Street South, buses will pick up at 7:15 a.m. today at the Oaklawn Senior Center, 2937 E. Oaklawn Drive.

Gas service

Kansas Gas Service is working to reintroduce natural gas to 1,800 customers in the Oaklawn area, said Conrad Koehler of the service.

The work of isolating the damaged area from the rest of the system, reintroducing gas to a safe pipe, shutting off meters, reintroducing gas to houses and businesses, and relighting appliances for customers is expected to take until Friday, he said.

Contributing: Jerry Siebenmark, Stan Finger and Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Eagle

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