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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2003

Tornadoes, hail ravage parts of S.W. Kansas

May 17, 2003

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— A day after at least one tornado hit this southwest Kansas town, officials on Friday said timely warnings prevented any deaths or injuries.

No damage estimate was immediately available from Thursday night's storms, which also lashed the area with heavy rain and 77-mph straight-line winds and pounded the nearby town of Kismet with golf ball-size hail so thick it drifted across roads.

"When the tornado touched down in Guymon (Okla.), they predicted it would be here at 7:34 p.m.," Seward County Administrator Ed Young said. "It hit at 7:32. So we had a half-hour warning, and the prediction was right on the money as to where it would come in and where it would go across."

Lt. Gov. John Moore declared disasters in Seward County and four other counties -- Meade, Clark, Ford and Sumner -- after the storms caused flooding and damaged trees and power lines in southwest and south-central Kansas.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius plans Monday to visit Liberal, the state Adjutant General's Office said. She was out of the state on Friday, attending her son's college graduation.

The tornado destroyed six mobile homes in a trailer park in far northwest Liberal, the state's top emergency agency said. Forty other homes were heavily damaged, and 100 more sustained some damage.

Rocky Pavarone, who lives in the Western Mobile Home Park, said he saw the tornado approaching about 7:30 p.m.

"I told my boys to get in their car and get out of there," Pavarone said.

As his sons were leaving, winds shattered the windows in the car. Pavarone then watched as the tornado destroyed his trailer home.

"It lifted it and moved it about 4 feet over, and tore off the roof," Pavarone said. "And then one of those big Dumpsters landed on the top of it."

Young said the same tornado that went through the trailer park also might have been responsible for tearing part of the roof off the Southwest Kansas Vocational-Technical School on the north side of town.

In southeast Liberal, either straight-line winds or another tornado spared the Oz-themed Dorothy's House attraction -- but tore down its barn.

Greg Standard, Seward County's emergency preparedness coordinator, said the worst hail fell in a swath 5 miles wide and 7 miles long near Kismet, in the eastern part of the county.

"The crops around Kismet are just gone," Standard said. "They won't be able to salvage them."

At Kismet, nearly all the windows on the north side of buildings had been broken by the golf ball-size hail that fell for 40 minutes, Standard said. He said there was extensive roof damage from the hail, and the storm took down trees all over the county.

Standard said the Red Cross was helping families whose homes were destroyed. The Salvation Army was also providing assistance in all five counties affected by the storm.

About 30 guardsmen will be deployed to Liberal to provide security in three mobile home parks, the Adjutant General's Office said.

Schools in Liberal and Kismet called off classes on Friday.

The storm also knocked out power to about 3,600 customers, and several areas had their natural gas service turned off because of broken lines.

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