Damaging tornado passes through Douglas County, destroying homes, trees, power lines; at least a dozen people injured

photo by: Ashley Hocking

A tornado damaged the home at 951 E. 1100 Road on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Updated story

Wednesday, May 29 — Latest tornado news and notes: ‘It’s not safe for the general public’ in damaged areas of Douglas County

Story updated at 11:19 p.m. Tuesday

A large tornado touched down in Douglas County shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, destroying multiple homes, trees and power lines, and injuring at least a dozen people.

The majority of damage to structures appears to have occurred outside the Lawrence city limits, the Lawrence Police Department said. However, damaged trees, power lines and other debris were spotted on the southeastern edge of the city, and some roads were impassable as a result of downed power lines and flash flooding.

In the rural Shank Hill neighborhood south of Lawrence — a high spot along U.S. Highway 59 between Pleasant Grove and the Wakarusa River — more than a dozen homes were severely damaged. Many of them had lost their roofs and their contents were drenched and scattered.

At the home at 1260 North 1000 Road, Misty Stofer and her husband, Eric, and their 9 year-old son, Braxton, rode the storm out in a windowless room in the basement, which was taking on water.

“When we thought it was over my husband went out and immediately came back and said water is coming in the basement because our roof is gone,” Misty said. “I thought the house was going to collapse. I said we had to get out of there. We tried to get to his car, but there was a tree on it.”

Then, a neighbor came driving by. They were looking for people in need of help.

“They were doing that even though their house got hit like that,” Misty said, pointing to the nearly roofless house next door.

Around the corner at 1254 North 1000 Road, Allison Bird and her family were in Lawrence when the storm hit. They took cover in Lawrence but also were on the phone with neighbors to see how their property had fared.

“They said we’ve been hit,” Bird said. “They said it is not looking too good.”

Upon a break in the storm, Bird soon saw what they meant. The roof of the house was gone, debris had crashed upon their 1956 Thunderbird, 1967 GTO and an antique International pickup truck, although the International didn’t even seem to be dented.

“It is the toughest thing here,” Bird said, managing to laugh a little.

Bird, though, was just thankful that her family wasn’t there. She and husband, Darren, have five kids with a sixth on the way.

“It could have been very terrifying,” she said.

The family also has a large church family that already was on the scene cleaning up.

“They just came,” Bird said of the congregation from the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “They have kind of taken over while we soak all of it in.”

Back at the Stofer house, there also was plenty of thanks to go around.

“This is just stuff. We don’t really care about that now. It is just a thing,” Stofer said of the house the family had called home for the last nine years.

But there also were some questions at the Stofer house. Braxton, the 9-year-old, asked whether this meant “camp was canceled.” His mother said indeed it was. When she was explaining to a reporter that the family would stay at a hotel that evening, Braxton confirmed somewhat excitedly that they were actually going to stay at a hotel. Mom explained there would be a lot of sleepovers — at grandparents and friends’ houses — for quite awhile.

“We have a lot of friends and family,” Stofer said to another adult. “But I don’t know. I’ve never done this before. It will be a new adventure.”

Then, turning back to her son, she floated another idea.

“Plus, it is summer,” she said. “Maybe we can camp some.”

Emergency radio traffic monitored by the Journal-World indicated that first responders were concentrating efforts directly south and southeast of Lawrence in rural Douglas County.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

A home at 1021 East 1292 Road is pictured after a tornado on May 28, 2019.

photo by: Kim Callahan

Homes near the intersection of County Road 458 and U.S. Highway 59 are pictured after a tornado passed through the area on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Dispatchers had received reports of some residents trapped in basements, according to radio traffic. At around 8 p.m. Tuesday, six people had been taken to LMH Health with injuries suffered during the storm, including one with serious injuries, and another five patients were on the way, according to Jenn Hethcoat, a public information officer with the sheriff’s office. Some minor injuries were also reported near Lone Star Lake, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kristen Channel said.

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for displaced residents and their pets at Building 21 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St., emergency management said. The organization’s first choice for a shelter was unavailable because it had no electricity.

Channel, who was helping Douglas County Emergency Management, said the tornado touched down at 6:15 p.m. near Lone Star Lake in the southwest part of Douglas County.

The storm moved northeast and caused damage to homes in the Lone Star Lake area before crossing U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence and causing damage in that area, as well as eastern Lawrence, Channel said. The Associated Press also reported some damage near Eudora, east of Lawrence.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

A tornado damaged a garage of Crystal and Todd Dwyer at 959 E. 1100 Road on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

A tornado damaged the home at 951 E. 1100 Road on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

The National Weather Service in Topeka issued tornado warnings and a tornado emergency as the storm moved across the county, and Lawrence police reported that law enforcement units tracking the storm were having trouble seeing the tornado because of heavy rain.

Lawrence police said Douglas County dispatch received reports of overturned vehicles as the storm passed through. Immediately after the storm, U.S. Highway 59 was closed because of a truck in the roadway, the Kansas Department of Transportation said. As of 8:45 p.m., the highway had reopened.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

A tree blocks the driveway 1173 N. 1000 Road, which is the home of Ryan and Genia Hall, on Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

A stop sign at N. 1000 Road and E. 1167 Road is nearly knocked over after a tornadic storm passed through the area Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

County Road 1055, also known as East 1500 Road, was closed because of storm damage from 31st Street to North 1100 Road, Douglas County Emergency Management said. County Road 442, also known as North 1400 Road, was also closed from Noria Road, known as East 1750 Road, to County Road 1057, known as East 1900 Road.

A flash flood warning was in effect for Douglas County until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, and some roadways were impassable because of water, including the North Lawrence underpass on North Second Street, which eventually reopened around 10:30 p.m.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Water floods the underpass along North Second Street in North Lawrence, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Thousands of people in the area were without power after the storm. Westar Energy communications representative Kylee Slavens said that at the peak of the outages, there were more than 15,000 customers without power around the path of the tornado in Lawrence and areas east and northeast of Lawrence. As of about 9 p.m., Westar’s online outage maps showed about 14,000 customers without power.

Slavens said power lines have been significantly damaged and Westar has an “all hands call in” for crews in the Topeka and Lawrence area to start assessing lines and get things back online. She did not have an estimate yet of when power would be restored, but said crews are working as quickly as they can. She advised people to be cautious and treat any downed lines as if they may be live, and to be aware that lines could be underneath debris.

Power outages were causing issues with some traffic signals across Lawrence, and crews were working to put stop signs in their place, according to the Lawrence police department.

Other communities closer to the Kansas City metro area were also hit by the tornado Tuesday, and in preparation the Kansas National Guard was staging some vehicles and personnel near the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets at the University of Kansas Park and Ride lot, emergency management said.

Kyle Poage, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said some areas of Douglas County saw about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain, as of roughly 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said another half-inch or so had fallen in Osage County and would likely be moving this direction.

Poage said he did not yet have a categorization of the tornado late Tuesday night. He said teams would visit the area to assess the storm damage Wednesday morning.

— Journal-World staff members Dylan Lysen and Kim Callahan contributed to this report.

photo by: Associated Press

Joe Arneson looks over damage to his home after a tornado struck the outskirts of Eudora, Kan., Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

photo by: Associated Press

Joe Arneson looks over his destroyed barn after a tornado struck the outskirts of Eudora, Kan., Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

A home near U.S. 59 Highway and County Road 458 is pictured after a tornado on May 28, 2019.


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