Archive for Wednesday, March 27, 1991


March 27, 1991


Lawrence residents and business owners today began the arduous process of trying to repair the extensive damage caused by a violent hailstorm that struck the city about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Damage from the 10-minute onslaught of hail, some of it golf ball-sized, was widespread around town. Cars sustained body and window damage while homes and businesses incurred window, roof and water damage. Only the extreme western parts of Lawrence were spared from the storm, which dropped 1.54 inches of rain and sent temperatures falling from 76 degrees to 56 degrees almost instantly.

For Lawrence residents looking for a good deal on a new car, the storm might have been a blessing in disguise. At least two local car dealerships plan to hold "hail sales" to clear damaged vehicles off the lots.

LARRY Walburn, sales manager and vice president of Jim Clark Motors, 2121 W. 29th Ter., said everything in the used car lot as well as about 350 new Dodge, Chrysler, Isuzu, Volkswagen and Plymouth automobiles suffered extensive damage.

"Every car looks like someone went out with a ball peen hammer and spent all night on each one," he said. "There's just not a flat panel that wasn't damaged."

Walburn said insurance adjusters were working on the problem this morning, but he estimated damage to be in the millions of dollars.

He compared the storm to the tornado that ripped through Lawrence in 1981, but said Tuesday's hail caused even more damage.

"With the tornado, debris was flying around and caused a lot of scratches and dents, but the hail is a little worse," he said. "Everything was just sitting there being pounded."

GARY BENNETT, general manager at Laird Noller, 23rd and Alabama, estimated losses between $800,000 and $1 million. He said every used car and about 350 new Fords, Lincolns, Mercurys and Mazdas sustained hail damage.

Other Laird Noller dealerships have incurred losses from inclement weather in the past, but never to this extent, he said.

People who already owned cars today faced the prospect of having their dents and broken windows repaired.

The storm also ravaged local mobile home parks, where some residents gathered in tornado shelters.

"We have a lot of damage an awful lot of roof damage, broken windows, a lot of damaged skirting," said Eunice Hays, assistant manager at Gaslight Village, 1900 W. 31st. "The phone's been ringing so fast this morning, and almost everyone I've talked to had some kind of damage. If the windows weren't broken out, the screens were shredded."

STAR HIBNER, a park tenant, said she still was cleaning up glass in her home this morning.

"The windows blew completely out in the kitchen," she said.

Larry McElwain, owner of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th St., said his business received considerable roof and water damage from the storm.

"We had a roof system that failed," he said. "Luckily, there was a second roof under it. The roofers will have to tear down to it and patch it, but it should hold us awhile."

McElwain said the building had about half an inch of water in its basement. He added that a funeral scheduled this morning at the mortuary had to be moved to a church.

GLENN SOHL, owner of Cornucopia, 1801 Mass., and Tin Pan Alley, 1105 Mass., said hailstones destroyed the neon signs at both of his restaurants. He said the signs would cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Despite the damages, Sohl said he was able to have some fun with the hailstones bouncing inside Cornucopia, which was windowless because of a remodeling project at the restaurant.

"We were inside with two-by-fours playing baseball," he said. "We had a grand old time."

Five Lawrence school district buildings reported broken or cracked windows this morning. East Heights Elementary School, 1430 Haskell, seemed hardest hit with 11 damaged skylights. Lawrence High School, 1901 La., sustained some roof damage and an undetermined number of broken or cracked windows.

ONE PERSON was treated at Lawrence Memorial Hospital's emergency room for a scalp laceration caused by the hail. Hospital spokeswoman Judith McFadden said the hospital also received two or three calls on how to remove glass from hair.

Telephones in Lawrence experienced a slow dial tone because of a deluge of calls after the storm, but telephone equipment did not sustain any major damage.

Mike Scott, area manager in community relations for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., said a few lines knocked down by branches should be repaired by the end of today.

Garry Keeler, agriculture agent for the Douglas County Extension Office, said he and other agriculture experts traveled around the county this morning, but didn't see any hail damage to area crops.

Keeler said farmers had hoped for rain and were disappointed when the downfall that virtually flooded much of the city of Lawrence didn't reach rural parts of the county.

After pounding Douglas County, the hailstorm went on to wreak havoc on southern Leavenworth County, where winds reached speeds in excess of 80 mph.

Janette Nesmith, public relations officer for the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office, said about 10 homes on 150th Street, about half a mile south of Kansas Highway 32, suffered major damage.

Nesmith said several pole barns in the county were damaged, and the sheriff's department received one report of a pole barn that was destroyed. She said no injuries were reported.

ALTHOUGH the majority of damage was caused by hail, the storm also produced dangerous lightning.

A house at 1619 Northwood was struck by lightning, as was the observation tower at Wells Overlook Park.

Lawrence firefighters were called at 5:01 p.m. Tuesday to the residence, where neighbors had extinguished a fire in the garage with a garden hose.

Damage was estimated at $500.

Douglas County sheriff's officers today reported that lightning struck the tower at Wells Overlook Park, about two miles south of Lawrence, about 4:10 p.m.

Wakarusa Township firefighters extinguished the small blaze, which charred a 2-foot area on a platform of the wooden tower. No monetary damage was reported.

KANSAS University maintenance workers also were keeping busy this morning. Mike Richardson, director of KU facilities and operations, said the storm damaged windows and caused drainage problems in buildings across campus.

"A number of windows were broken, cracked and knocked out," he said. The worst damage, he added, occurred at Stauffer-Flint and Carruth-O'Leary halls.

Heavy rains also caused water to back up into Marvin and Wescoe halls, he said.

Today's weather has provided no reprieve from the maintenance calls, Richardson said. High winds blew off metal ventilator units and caused serious damage to campus rooftops, he said.

High winds also caused other minor problems this morning, a Lawrence police spokesman said.

"WE'RE getting spotty reports," police Sgt. Kevin Harmon said.

Harmon said traffic lights at 15th and Iowa went dead because of the wind, and dispatchers received reports of brief power outages at 23rd and Alabama streets.

Steve Johnson, spokesman for KPL Gas Service, said winds caused a "few scattered" outages this morning.

Late this morning, local residents also reported that several trees around the city had been uprooted.

One Lawrence woman was able to put Tuesday's storm into perspective this morning. Eileen Unruh and her husband, Steve, had hired workers to begin reroofing their house at 2047 Barker.

Mrs. Unruh said the workers, who had begun the project Tuesday, had removed the old shingles and had applied a layer of tar paper to protect the roof from rain when the storm hit. The hail shredded the tar paper, she said, and the workers returned and applied another layer.

She said the storm sent water running down one of the home's interior walls.

"Sometimes you think of this as an act of God," she said. "But sometimes you have to look at this as an act of nature, and thank God that nothing else happened, like a person being blown off the roof."

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