Wichita The massive storm system that plowed through Kansas this weekend damaged businesses, uprooted trees, caused power outages and upended about 100 homes in a Wichita mobile home park. But no serious injuries or fatalities were reported, a feat one authority called “pretty much a miracle.”
The National Weather Service said the system spawned at least a “month’s worth” of tornadoes in Kansas, about as many as the state would normally see in April.
Damage survey teams from the National Weather Service spent time Sunday in areas hit hardest by the storms that swept through Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa all day Saturday and early Sunday. They were trying to determine how many tornadoes the storm spawned, said Mike Hudson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City.
The storms hit the Kansas counties of Sedgwick and Rice especially hard. The Pinaire Mobile Home park in southeast Wichita sustained major damage, but there were no major injuries. Several of the mobile homes were demolished, others were heavily damaged. Some were still burning Sunday because of several gas leaks in the area.
“We knew well ahead of time that this was going to be ugly,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton said. “People listened. They sheltered in place, and we are very fortunate it didn’t go through some major residential areas and that there wasn’t any loss of life.”
Yvonne Tucker was watching news coverage of the storms on Saturday night at her home in the Pinaire Mobile Home park. She said Sunday she joined about 50 people, including her son and a friend, in the park’s storm shelter for several minutes.
Tucker thought about returning to her home, but when she got outside, she looked up and saw “a dark funnel cloud in the air.”
“I ran back into the shelter and as soon as we all got in ... that’s when it hit,” Tucker said. “You just really heard a big boom... and the lights went out and there were babies crying and the gas smell, so we stayed down there for quite a while.”
She said Sunday she was “going day-by-day” and trying to gather some clothes for herself and her son.
“We lost everything, the home, the car too,” she said.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said Sunday that considering the devastation at the mobile home park, it was surprising there weren’t more injuries.
“As we all know, tornadoes and trailer homes especially don’t mix well and to me it’s pretty much a miracle that no one was more seriously injured,” Hinshaw said.
A reported tornado also damaged McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Earlier Saturday, officials had relocated 16 KC-135 Stratotankers to Grand Forks Air Force Base as a precaution. There were no reports of injured service members or aircraft damaged, but the 184th Intelligence Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard building sustained some damage.
Storm damage was reported at the nearby Kansas Aviation Museum, including its B47 display. Six buildings at Spirit AeroSystems were significantly damaged and four others had major damage. Both the Hawker-Beechcraft plant and a Wichita elementary school sustained roof damage.
By Sunday morning, large swaths of Wichita were closed to all but residents as authorities began clearing downed trees and power lines. Authorities urged residents to be patient. Preliminary damage estimates in Wichita could be as high as $283 million.
The National Weather Service said there were 122 preliminary tornado reports in the region this weekend, the majority of them in Kansas. Hudson said some of those are likely multiple reports of the same tornado.
The most recent 20-year average for the number of April tornadoes in Kansas stands at 12, he said. Even once multiple sightings are accounted for, Hudson said there will have been more than 12 tornadoes reported in the state from the weekend outbreak.
“So it’s safe to say we really had at least a month’s worth of tornado activity in the state of Kansas yesterday considering that an average month of April has 12 tornadoes,” Hudson said.
Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement Sunday that Kansas residents appeared to have taken the storm warnings seriously.
Brownback, who issued a declaration of disaster emergency early Sunday, said the state was fortunate to have escaped fatalities. He said residents responded to the storm warnings and took cover.
“They did everything they could to protect themselves and their families. These actions may have saved many lives,” Brownback said.
The weather service said Kansas was likely to be clear of heavy storms Sunday, but several counties across southern Missouri were under tornado warnings until late Sunday evening.