One family lost a child in 1990 tornado

03/07/2010 12:00 AM

03/07/2010 10:26 AM

March 13, 1990, started out rather cool, but by late that afternoon it was awfully muggy at the Fisher farm a couple miles southeast of Burrton in Harvey County.

After her three boys got home from school, Dixie Fisher played with them outside. But then it was time to fix supper.

As she was working in the kitchen, someone on the television reported that a tornado was on the ground in Reno County.

"We looked out the kitchen window, and you could see it," Fisher said. "I wasn't sure it was a tornado — I'd never seen a tornado. I always associated it with this skinny little thing, like a rope.

"It wasn't that. It was this big, black wall."

Her husband's grandparents lived on the other side of a pond, and they called to ask whether they could take shelter in the Fishers' basement. Their old house didn't have one.

"I look out one window and see the tornado, I look out the other window, and they're walking down the highway," Fisher said. "I'm waving, 'Come on! Come on!' "

She ordered her boys, 6-year-old Lucas, 9-year-old Brandon and 10-year-old Garrett, to the basement, and they immediately obeyed.

Fisher had to coax her husband's grandparents into the basement, where they went to a room in the southwest corner.

"Is this the best place to be?" her husband's grandmother asked.

Yes, Fisher assured her, that's what I've always been told.

The lights in the house flickered and went out.

Then the roar arrived — a noise so loud it was disorienting, she said. An intense pressure engulfed them, too.

Then it was over.

The tornado stopped the clocks in the house at 5:10 p.m., but it was so dark in the basement Fisher could not see anyone — even though they were sitting in a circle next to each other.

She started calling out names to see whether everyone was all right.

Mrs. Wedel? Mr. Wedel? Garrett? Brandon?

One by one, they all responded.

Lucas?

"He didn't answer."

Maybe, his mother thought, he ran into the other room. She sent her oldest son after a flashlight — and then they found him.

The tornado had thrown a tree at the chimney of the brick house, knocking it into the basement and burying Lucas from the waist up.

"His little legs were hanging out," Fisher said. "Every time I tried to move a brick, more bricks would fall down onto him."

She felt his femoral artery, and realized he didn't have a pulse. Her youngest son was gone.

The three boys were sitting together in the little circle, with Lucas between his older brothers.

"The chimney came down right between Brandon and Garrett," Fisher said. "You have to think it was just his time. The Lord wanted him in heaven."

Fisher told her two older boys to go get help. The fire department was pulling into the Wedels' yard to search for victims in the rubble left behind by the tornado when they stepped outside.

The firefighters had to bring in extra equipment to remove the chimney debris from atop Lucas.

Kent, Dixie Fisher's husband, was at work when the tornado struck. The tornado continued northeast, staying on the ground for 48 miles and ripping through the center of Hesston before lifting.

Lucas was the only person killed by the tornado, though 68-year-old Ruth Voth was killed by another tornado that touched down during the same outbreak.

The Fishers talked about building a new home on another piece of land they owned, but ultimately chose to rebuild in the same place.

Those first few years were devastating emotionally, Dixie Fisher said, but healing has come with time.

Lucas was the class clown in the first grade at Burrton, his teacher told Fisher, and after he died his best friend tried to assume that role.

Fisher's family bought a tree in Lucas' memory and put up a memorial in the town. Years later, when his class graduated from high school, they projected photos of him onto a screen as part of a montage of the class.

"It was very thoughtful of them to do that," Fisher said. "They were in first grade when he died, and yet they still remembered him, all those years later."

One girl in his class named a son Lucas, she said, and another chose that as her son's middle name.

"That's like an honor — something for Lucas," Fisher said, her voice choking.

Authorities say the southwest corner of the basement offers no special protection against a tornado. Looking back, Fisher said, the only damage in the basement occurred where they had huddled.

"If we would have been in any other room, we would have been fine," she said. "I picked the wrong room."

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