Tornado causes two deaths near Barton County

WICHITA — Two people were killed in central Kansas early Tuesday evening by debris from a passing tornado, authorities said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said they were killed around 6 p.m. when a tree was propelled into their van on U.S. 281 near the Stafford County town of St. John, several miles south of great Bend.

"We think that would have been a tornado," said Kelly Sugden, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Dodge City.

One tornado caused moderate to severe damage along U.S. 281 at about the same time as the fatalities occurred, Sugden said.

At least seven tornadoes had been reported in central Kansas as of early Tuesday evening, part of a widespread tornado outbreak. Numerous large, deadly tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma.

Fast-moving thunderstorms rolled through Wichita late Tuesday afternoon, but only .25 of an inch of rain was reported at the Wichita branch of the weather service.

Dime-sized hail fell for a short time in west Wichita.

"I think we dodged a bullet on the tornadoes," said Dick Elder, meteorologist in charge of the Wichita branch.

In Butler County, a semitrailer was blown over on the Kansas Turnpike around 6:30 p.m. Emergency management officials reported a house destroyed in Barton County between Ellinwood and Great Bend.

Near Great Bend, lightning was blamed for a small fire at a four-unit apartment building Tuesday evening. Great Bend Fire Battalion Chief Rick Robison said a witness reported seeing lightning strike the building near an exterior dryer vent.

No injuries were reported, but tenants had to find other lodgings for the night.

The threat of severe weather prompted suspension Tuesday afternoon of cleanup and recovery work in the east-central town of Reading, where a tornado Saturday night killed one person and destroyed about 20 homes.

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