Storms packing fierce winds, torrential rains, lightning and hail Wednesday turned Lawrence-area towns into war zones of damaged buildings, bent and broken trees and downed power lines.
Ilene McMacken couldn't seem to escape a series of devastating thunderstorms on Wednesday that swept through Jefferson and Leavenworth counties.
Early Wednesday evening, McMacken huddled in a bath house at Perry Lake while storm winds sunk the boat that she owned with her husband. When she returned later to her home near Tonganoxie, she learned that her brother's house had been destroyed by what authorities think was a tornado.
"They don't have a house at all," McMacken said of her brother's family, which lived in a rental house about one-half mile from the McMacken residence. "It's gone. It's terrible."
David Purcell, McMacken's brother, said he gathered his family in the basement after hearing warning sirens. Minutes later, the house was being ripped apart by winds and hail "as big as your fist," he said.
"It roared just like a train," he said Thursday as he picked through the debris.
Trail of evidence
McMacken and Purcell were among thousands of Lawrence-area residents affected by storms that blew apart buildings, uprooted trees, destroyed crops and shattered windows.
"It's going to take most of the day to drive around the county and assess the damage," said Dan Flanders, office assistant for the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Leavenworth County.
Reports of funnel clouds erupted over emergency radios after 7:30 p.m., when storm clouds moved into Jefferson County. On Thursday afternoon, there had been no confirmed touchdowns, but officials were investigating areas where damage indicated a tornado.
At McGraw's Fertilizer Service Inc., a few miles north of Tonganoxie, winds that manager Joe Hicks Jr. estimated at more than 80 mph blew the roof off of a storage building. The storm snapped 2-by-6 studs like twigs and tossed debris hundreds of feet to the south.
A torn windsock, supported by a metal pole that bent as the wind slammed into it, told the story of the storm's fury.
"We've seen 60 mph winds, and they didn't even touch it," Hicks said of the windsock.
In Jefferson County, authorities said the Lake Perry Marina took the brunt of the storm. Boats capsized and sunk as 60 mph winds and golfball- to baseball-sized hail slammed the marina and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office, which lost a storage shed.
Although a total damage report from Jefferson County was unavailable, preliminary estimates of damage from the marina alone were $350,000.
Ed Young, Tonganoxie city administrator, said early estimates placed damage in the city at a minimum of $250,000.
Power was knocked out to most of Tonganoxie late Wednesday after the roof of Vet-Vax Inc., 1202 U.S. Highway 24-40, blew through power lines leading to the city.
"That's probably the only thing that kept it (the roof) from going across the road," said Margie Gilner, assistant manager of the pet and veterinary supply business.
About 400 Tonganoxie residents remained without power at midday Thursday. By 10 p.m., that number was down to about 30 customers, and KPL Division Manager Steve Johnson said that the remaining customers' power should have been restored by midnight.
Outages also plagued Linwood, about 11 miles northeast of Lawrence. Vicki Wilson, 322 Second, said her home was without power from 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday after fierce winds sent tree limbs crashing onto the house and the family car.
Torrential rains turned the yard into a foot-deep lake, she said.
"It was scary," Wilson said. "We looked out the front door, and it was raining so hard it was just like a wall of water."
East of Lawrence, in communities like Eudora and DeSoto, the storm snapped branches and flooded streets and basements. But Bill Long, Eudora police chief, and Jim Cox, spokesman for the Johnson County Emergency Preparedness office, said there were no reports of major damage.
"It's amazing that with some of the reports we had on tornadoes that there wasn't any distinct damage," Cox said Thursday. "I figured this morning I'd be getting all kinds of damage reports. But right now, we're real happy with the fact that we haven't been getting any."
Storms continued Thursday morning, but for the most part did not cause extensive damage.
An exception happened in Eudora, where lightning struck a residence at 10:57 a.m. Thursday.
Long said the strike destroyed the chimney and caused cracks in exterior siding and brickwork. The current then apparently traveled down water lines and blew the metal lid off of the water meter, he said.
Although storms caused widespread property damage, authorities said they apparently did not result in any serious injuries.