At least 7 dead after tornado levels Kansas town

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) – Tornadoes killed at least seven people and leveled most of this southwest Kansas town, a state official said Saturday. Rescuers with dogs searched door to door for survivors.

The dead include six in Kiowa County, where Greensburg is located, and one in nearby Stafford County, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

The tornado that struck Greensburg late Friday damaged about 90 percent of the town about 110 miles west of Wichita, City Administrator Steve Hewitt said Saturday.

Dazed residents walked the streets, looking for loved ones and taking in the sight of crumbled buildings and smashed cars in the town of some 1,600 people.

Much of downtown was destroyed, along with City Hall, the high school and the junior high school, Hewitt said.

“I don’t think we have a business left downtown,” he said. A mandatory evacuation was ordered, he said.

Emergency personnel and search and rescue teams raced to Greensburg from throughout southwest Kansas. Trained dogs accompanied law enforcement officers who searched house to house for anyone trapped or injured.

“There is still a possibility we do not have all of the people accounted for in that town,” Watson said. “That is something we will be working feverishly to do over the next several hours.”

Hewitt said at least 50 people had been taken to hospitals, 16 in critical condition, but said exact numbers were impossible to come by. Rescuers pulled about 30 people from the basement of a partially collapsed hospital early Saturday, but most of them had minor injuries, Watson said.

A storm front spawned tornadoes along a line stretching northeast from Greensburg through central Kansas. Three small tornadoes also touched down Friday in rural southwestern Illinois, but officials said there were no reports of injury or damage. Two tornadoes struck in Oklahoma, damaging some structures but injuring no one, officials said.

Larry Ruthi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Dodge City, said the storm system spawned at least three significant tornadoes, including the one that hit Greensburg. He said there were likely other smaller twisters.

The weather service described the tornado that struck Greensburg as a “wedge,” an especially broad and tall formation. Frederick Kruse of the weather service’s Dodge City office said there were initial reports that the tornado was at least three-quarters of a mile wide on the ground.

Watson said the state fire marshal’s office dispatched hazardous materials teams because railroad cars in Kiowa County had overturned. She said the National Guard was sending 40 troops to provide security around Greensburg.

Katie White said she was driving through town and pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store when she heard the warning. She said the store’s owner pulled her and about 15 other people into the store’s cooler. When they emerged, White said, the building around them had collapsed.

School buses lined up to take people to the nearby town of Haviland, where the Red Cross opened shelters at Haviland High School and Barclay College.

“We have more than 300 people in shelters in Haviland,” Watson said. “We have another 300 en route to take advantage of those shelters, and we anticipate that number to grow.”

At the high school, the Rev. Gene McIntosh described how he huddled with his family in the parsonage of Greensburg’s United Methodist Church as the tornado roared overhead. McIntosh said sofa cushions protected his 11-year-old son and the boy’s friend from falling debris.

“There was a lot of praying down there,” McIntosh said.