Archive for Friday, May 28, 2004

Kansans still in knots about tornadoes

May 28, 2004

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— When tornado sirens wail these days in Crawford County, people are far less likely to wander outside to look at the clouds than they were a year ago, when a massive tornado claimed the lives of three of their neighbors.

Sheriff Sandy Horton said the May 4, 2003, tornadoes were a wake-up call for people who didn't take the dangers of strong storms seriously enough in the past. Those tornadoes were the start of the worst week in U.S. history for tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Last May 4 our neighbors were outside looking into the sky when I was leaving" in response to reports of a tornado bearing down on the county, Horton said. "In that respect, I think people are taking these things more seriously and paying more attention to what's going on now."

Two people in the Crawford County town of Ringo and one in Franklin were killed during last year's storm.

Horton said tornado sirens were sounded Wednesday night when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the county. A few structures and one car were damaged by what is believed to have been a tornado, he said, but added it was hard to officially document tornadoes once night has fallen.

"We were very, very fortunate," he said. "We know what kind of devastation a storm can bring."

In Cherokee County, several towns have devised an emergency response plan since last year that would be put into effect after a natural disaster. Columbus Police Officer Jason Daniels said the plan divides responsibilities for emergency response among Galena, Baxter Springs and Columbus officials.

Daniels said storm awareness was high among Columbus residents, who also tend to get a little nervous when tornadoes are reported to be on the ground in surrounding counties.

One person was killed in a mobile home near Columbus during that deadly May 4 storm, and two others were killed when their house near Crestline was destroyed.

"People here are aware of what can happen in a tornado," Daniels said. "They want to be prepared for what can happen, and take steps to be ahead of the storm itself."

Across the state line in Carl Junction, Mo., where two people were killed in the May 4 storms, City Administrator Joe Barfield said people had become more aware of what a tornado can do -- and become more jittery when storms approach because of it.

"Unfortunately, when you go through a tornado, all the residents in the area are pretty much aware of what can happen and how quick it can happen," Barfield said. "When black clouds start rolling in, people get awful nervous pretty quick."

Dr. Scott Symes, a psychologist at Behavior Management Associates in Joplin, Mo., compared the psychological impact of the May 4, 2003, tornadoes on some people to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"Anything that traumatic, such as tornadoes or big storms or Sept. 11 or anything that's a big deal for individuals, it affects them personally," Symes said.

"Most likely they're experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. People can experience a lot of symptoms, especially at this time of year, the anniversary of these happenings. They can relive very painful memories," he said.

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