Archive for Friday, May 9, 2003

Governor tours Lawrence tornado damage

Lawrence included in federal disaster area

May 9, 2003


Southwest Lawrence was cleaning up Friday morning from a tornado that ripped roofs off homes, overturned cars and blasted out windows Thursday evening.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius arrived at 3 p.m. at Sunflower Elementary School by Blackhawk helicopter, and toured the area for about 30 minutes, with several area state legislators and local city and county officials.

"Unfortunately this scene is a little too familiar," the governor said during a press conference, speaking in front of an apartment complex that had been badly damaged. Sebelius said there were seven tornado-related deaths in Kansas since Sunday.

"We are eager at the state level to do what we can," Sebelius said. She said she would work to get federal assistance available to people who need to rebuild. She said she would help to eliminate red tape to allow people to more easily to reacquire lost documents, such as drivers' licenses and birth certificates.

National Weather Service meteorologists who toured the site Friday morning said the tornado that hit Lawrence was an F-2 on the Fujita scale, according to Bob Newton, of Douglas County Emergency Management. The meteorologists told Newton the Lawrence tornado was one of three to four that touched down Thursday night in Douglas County.

Lawrence City Manager Manager Mike Wildgen said he received information Friday morning from the White House that Lawrence would be included in the federal disaster area that had already been declared for several counties from Sunday's tornadoes.

The disaster designation will allow local storm victims to receive federal assistance.

About 40 homes in an area mostly south and east of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive were in the tornado's path. Among those damaged were six apartment complex units, 30 homes south of Clinton Parkway and about 10 homes north of Clinton Parkway.

Three schools in the area, Southwest Junior High, Sunflower Elementary School and Raintree Montessori school canceled classes.

Aid workers set up an overnight emergency shelter at Free State High School. But only one resident used the facility. Some who were rendered homeless by the tornado used aid agency vouchers to overnight at Lawrence hotels.

By Friday morning, military police from the Guard working with Lawrence police had cordoned off streets surrounding the worst-hit area of town and were turning away everyone but emergency workers and residents trying to restore order to their homes.

Residents allowed in

Sgt. Mike Pattrick, a spokesman for the Lawrence Police Department, on Friday morning urged residents who need access to the area to go to a checkpoint at Sunflower Elementary School, 2521 Inverness Dr.

As of 10 a.m., residents weren't being allowed into the area without an escort, Pattrick said. The decision to restrict access was made by the heads of the county's emergency-response agencies and was largely safety-related, he said.

Within the heavily damaged Aberdeen apartments, at least four buildings were too heavily damaged to allow anyone inside this morning, said Mark Bradford, deputy chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.

Bradford said Lawrence Memorial Hospital reported six people treated Thursday night for minor storm-related injuries.

Cleanup beginning

The Kansas National Guard has set up checkpoints at four corners of the affected area: on the southwest at 27th and Wakarusa Drive, on the northwest at Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive, on the northeast at Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive and on the southeast at 27th and Inverness.

The area is closed off to everyone but construction workers, fire and medical officials, city crews, the Red Cross and residents who check in at the command center is at 27th and Scottsdale.

Those who checked in were given a name tag. Those without name tags were subject to be removed from the area.

On Friday morning, residents were beginning the clean-up effort. Residents were seen putting tarps over broken windows and over roof areas that were blown off.

In the Aberdeen Apartment complex area, officials were lettting people through to get clothes from their homes and move their cars from the area.

About a third of the apartment complex was damaged. The tornado peeled off most of the top floors from two of the two-story, eight-plex units.

Power has been restored in at much of the damaged area by this morning.

City cleanup effort underway

City crews from Public Works and Parks and Recreation began cleaning up debris from the public right-of-way at 6 a.m. and expected cleanup to be finished by the end of the day.

Public works staff is currently selecting sites to receive roll off boxes to provide residents a debris receptacle.

Debris that is similar to household trash should be placed at the curb and sanitation crews will be in the area on Saturday to make pick ups. Normally scheduled trash pick up is on Thursday for the affected area.

Eight inspectors from the city's Neighborhood Resources Department were in the area determining the safety of damaged structures. Four teams were doing damage assessments along the tornado's path.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency assessments include damage to structures and the number of households affected.

The area has been divided into inspections territories and once inspected, structures receive a placard. The placards indicate a completed inspection and deem the structures either unsafe structures, limited entry or damaged and safe.

Placards are taped to the structure or mailbox. If structures are damaged and do not have placard, individuals are asked to call the Building Inspection Division in Neighborhood Resources Department at 832-7700.

The Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department will be picking up limbs and branches, in the area damaged by Thursday night's storm, 15th St. to 27th St. and Inverness Dr. to Wakarusa Dr., on Monday and Tuesday of next week, May 12 and 13. Citizens are asked to put broken limbs and branches at the curbside for pickup.

Bus service altered

Lawrence Transit System has altered service to the area due to the limited traffic flow.

Route 5 is using Clinton Parkway to Crossgate to 24th Street turn around before returning to Clinton Parkway. Throughout the day, clean up will continue and should permit Route 5 to reach Inverness. At that time, Route 5 will turn south on Inverness and east onto 27th Street to Crossgate and then back onto Clinton Parkway to continue east. The normal route to Inverness to north on 27th to Wakarusa will be restored when traffic in the area is permitted.

Paratransit in the area south of Clinton Parkway, north of 27th Street and west of Wakarusa and east of Inverness due to the restriction of traffic in that area damaged by last evening's storm. Riders with scheduled trips should contact 312-7054 to discuss alternative arrangements. Service to the area will return when permitted.

Organizations providing aid

The Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross has marshaled its resources to aid in the cause.

Brad Finkeldi, President of the Board of the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said that 47 volunteers assisted in efforts Thursday night at the temporary shelter at Free State High School.

He did not have exact numbers of those who utilized the temporary shelter but said many who might have utilized the service were staying with friends and relatives.

Finkelei said that volunteers are manning a canteen which has been set up at the command center at 27th and Scottsdale. He also said that plans were being made for a mobile canteen to roll in today from the Wyandotte County chapter of the Red Cross to pass out food in the effected areas.

Another storm brewing

Ross Janssen, 6News meteorologist, said more severe storms are on the way after midnight.

"This looks more like large hail, damaging winds. The tornado risk is much lower," Janssen said. "But tornadoes can't be ruled out."

-- Greg Hurd, multimedia assistant managing editor; Eric Weslander, J-W reporter, and Scott McClurg, J-W photographer, all contributed to this story.

Return to this site throughout the day for more photos, video and updated information, tune in to the 6News report on Sunflower Broadband's channel 6 and pick up a copy of Saturday's Journal-World for the latest developments.

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