Tornado news and notes: When sirens sound, some businesses lock up — know where to seek shelter
photo by: Submitted photo by Joe Leuschen
Story updated at 6:23 p.m. Wednesday
Area agencies continue to evaluate damage and assist with cleanup Wednesday after a destructive tornado made its way through Douglas County Tuesday evening.
Journal-World reporters will be working throughout the day to gather information in the aftermath. In the meantime, this story will also be updated with the latest from emergency management, government agencies and other organizations.
Coverage from Tuesday night
Latest updates (below)
Posted: 6:47 p.m. Wednesday
When sirens sound, some businesses lock up — know where to seek shelter
Lawrence resident Fanta Christy, her husband and their two kids were driving in southern Lawrence Tuesday evening when the tornado sirens started sounding.
The sirens began their ominous blare at about 5:45 p.m., when many people were in their cars heading home from work. Some continued on to their destination, while others pulled over to seek shelter as the sky began to darken. While some buildings, such as the Lawrence Public Library, sheltered people, others locked their doors.
Christy said her phone had been on silent so she hadn’t heard weather alerts, but that they turned on the radio once the sirens went off and that broadcasters said to seek shelter immediately. Given how far they were from their home in North Lawrence, Christy said they did not want to try to make it there.
In their search for shelter, Christy said they initially pulled up to the Home Depot. She said there were other cars parking under the Home Depot’s loading zone awning, and they did the same and approached the sliding glass doors. But they found all the doors locked and no one let them in.
She said that they could see the large thunderstorm system nearby, and that it had gotten dark quickly and the temperature had dropped. Her children, ages 10 and 12, were upset and wet from the rain. She said she wished she would have known the nearest place to seek shelter and been aware that some businesses would be locked.
“When you are in that scary situation like that, you just want to be able to find a shelter and be safe,” Christy said.
Others also reported that some businesses turned them away during the tornado. Pomona resident Shelly Johnson was in Lawrence for work and said that when the sirens went off, she and several others attempted to shelter in the Dillons grocery store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive, but were not allowed inside. Johnson said she then went to the nearby Kwik Shop, but it was closing down because of the tornado. Ultimately, Johnson, who works as a CNA, said she ended up going early to her next appointment, which was in a nearby apartment complex.
When asked about its tornado protocol, Dillons spokesperson Sheila Lowrie said in an email to the Journal-World that Dillons staff monitors weather and that in a tornado warning customers are told via the store’s intercom that they can join staff in the designated shelter or leave the store. She said that a designated lookout is to remain at the front door as long as it is safe, so customers can exit or enter to take shelter. She said that once the weather threat is “imminent,” the lookout secures the doors and takes shelter.
Home Depot spokesperson Margaret Smith said in an email to the Journal-World that for safety reasons their protocol is to lock doors and direct those inside to a designated location in the store. She said if the doors are open when a storm hits, it can create dangerous conditions and they do not hold their stores out to be storm shelters. Specifically, she said the structural design and possibility of things falling from high shelves can create dangerous conditions for the building and people who are inside, among other factors.
For those in their car when a tornado warning sounds, Douglas County Emergency Management warns motorists not to try to outrun the tornado. People are advised to abandon the vehicle and move into a predesignated shelter or the lowest level of a building.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kristen Channel said there are no officially designed storm shelters in Douglas County nor a list of churches or businesses that have storm shelters open to the public. She said if a motorist is in town, they should seek shelter in a nearby building.
“Being in the car would be a very dangerous situation, so they best thing to do is to get out of the car and attempt to find shelter somewhere,” Channel said.
Channel said that the majority of injuries in Tuesday’s storm were the result of vehicle accidents, although she had no exact numbers for how many of the people injured in the storm were in vehicles.
Christy said that after finding the doors locked at Home Depot, they decided to go to nearby Menards. She said they were let in to shelter within the building until the tornado warning lifted and given towels off the store’s shelves to dry off.
Menards General Manager Rob Jones said there were about 50 people in the store during the tornado warning. He estimated that about 10 to 15 people showed up after the sirens went off.
“We’re not going to turn anybody away,” Jones said. “We want everybody to be safe.”
Emergency Management advises that if a suitable structure is not available, people should lie flat in a ditch or depression, cover their head and neck with their arms, and be aware of flash flooding. Channel also noted that for travelers on the Kansas Turnpike, there are underground storm shelters at most toll plazas statewide.
There are 42 outdoor warning sirens in Douglas County, according to the Douglas County Emergency Management website. The sirens are located in the most heavily populated and recreational areas and are intended to warn those who are outside. The sirens sound for three minutes at a time during the entire duration of the warning, so there will be breaks in the noise. There is not an all-clear siren, so anytime sirens sound residents should take cover.
Posted: 11:35 p.m. Wednesday
‘I’m lucky’: Hard-hit Linwood residents reflect on disaster
Watching traffic pass by his decimated home from his insulation-coated chair, Linwood resident Tim Bunrien became emotional while reflecting on Tuesday’s tornado.
“I’m lucky,” Bunrien said. “This stuff, we can fix it.”
photo by: Jackson Barton
A mile-wide tornado, which originally touched down in southwestern Douglas County, destroyed almost 20 homes in Linwood and Leavenworth county Tuesday evening, according to Leavenworth County Emergency Management. Only three minor injuries were reported.
Bunrein was in his basement with his wife and dog when the tornado swept over their home.
“It was like getting hit by a freight train,” Bunrein said. “I thought I had a pretty sturdy house … I could feel it coming apart.”
Bunrein said he had no idea how long it would take for the community to rebuild.
“That’s the question of the day: What can we do?'” Bunrein said. “When you have something like this, you don’t even know where to start.”
The EF-4 tornado peaked at 170 mph winds and a width of up to 1 mile, according to the National Weather Service.
photo by: Jackson Barton
Linwood was without power as of Wednesday night. Westar Energy said customers able to receive power can expect restoration Thursday night. The tornado brought down over 300 poles and power lines around Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.
The tornado ripped apart a 10-acre wholesale greenhouse belonging to Free State Growers. Although the facility has a staff of 40 employees, only one was present when the tornado arrived, according to Free State Growers president Mark Illausky. The employee took shelter outside next to a small orange tractor while the winds tore into the facility and overturned box trucks, Illausky said. He was unharmed.
While Illausky described the facility as decimated, he said the company plans on starting to rebuild Thursday.
Bunrein said he had received an outpouring of support from the Linwood community and passersby. The help started as soon as Bunrein emerged from his basement to survey the damage in the rain. A stranger offered him their coat.
“A guy pulls up my driveway, gets out (and asks) ‘You got a coat?'” Bunrein said. “I didn’t even know where my coat was.”
Since Tuesday night, Bunrein said they’ve received food and help piling up debris from first responders, businesses and other impacted residents. Bunrein said he was fortunate to have all of his family and friends helping him since he still feels devastated.
“I don’t even know where I’m at half the time,” Bunrein said. “You work all of your life and it’s gone in five minutes.”
photo by: Jackson Barton
Posted: 6:08 p.m. Wednesday
Tuesday twister one of most destructive in recent local history
The tornado that made its way across Douglas County and destroyed dozens of homes Tuesday evening was one of the biggest and most destructive in recent local history.
The National Weather Service’s archive of tornado reports counts 32 storms that produced tornadoes in Douglas County since 1950. Tuesday’s tornado, which would be the 33rd, was classified as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with estimated peak winds of 170 miles per hour, and the weather service measured its path at 31.82 miles long and 1 mile wide at its maximum. It is the first tornado surveyed in the county since July 2015, when a small tornado raked across Eudora and caused sporadic tree damage.
Although a number of tornadoes have caused isolated damage to some buildings in rural Douglas County over the past 20 years, the last significant damage caused by a tornado occurred on May 8, 2003, when an F2 tornado touched down in southwest Lawrence and caused major damage to an apartment complex and other homes in the area. That tornado injured six people and caused about $6.4 million in property damage.
Tuesday’s tornado, which injured 17 people in Douglas County, marked the most injuries caused by a tornado in the county since the June 19, 1981, tornado that struck Lawrence. That tornado, an F3, killed one man in the former Kmart store at 3106 Iowa St. and injured 33 others, causing $25 million in damage, according to the weather service.
Any talk of recent storm damage in Douglas County might be incomplete without mention of the microburst that struck Lawrence on March 12, 2006. Although not a tornado, the straight-line winds of the microburst caused more damage than a small tornado, meteorologists said at the time. Damage to trees, power lines, roofs and buildings totaled about $8 million, and about 60 percent of the buildings on the University of Kansas campus sustained damage, the Journal-World previously reported.
Damage estimates from Tuesday’s tornado were not yet available Wednesday afternoon.
Tornadoes in Douglas County
Surveyed by the National Weather Service, since 1950
|Location||Date||Magnitude||Injuries (Deaths)||Damage Estimate|
|* Douglas County||6/15/1991||F0||0||$2,500|
|* Douglas County||3/1/1991||F0||0||$25,000|
|* Douglas County||3/12/1990||F1||0||$250,000|
|* Douglas County||6/2/1989||F0||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||6/19/1981||F3||33 (1)||$25,000,000|
|* Douglas County||5/31/1980||F2||0||$250,000|
|* Douglas County||5/4/1977||F3||1||$2,500,000|
|* Douglas County||7/9/1969||F2||2||$250,000|
|* Douglas County||6/12/1966||F1||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||4/12/1964||F3||3||$2,500,000|
|* Douglas County||4/2/1964||F1||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||8/6/1962||F3||0||$250,000|
|* Douglas County||8/6/1962||F1||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||8/6/1962||F1||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||7/11/1962||F2||0||$2,500|
|* Douglas County||11/17/1958||F1||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||6/11/1957||F2||0||$0|
|* Douglas County||7/7/1956||F1||0||$2,500|
|* Douglas County||5/22/1952||F4||2||$250,000|
|* Douglas County||6/8/1951||F2||0||$2,500|
|* City affected not specified in archives|
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Posted: 3:29 p.m. Wednesday
Tornado near Lawrence injured 17, damaged more than 60 homes
The large tornado that skirted Lawrence Tuesday night injured 17 people and damaged over 60 homes, authorities said Wednesday.
At least three of the victims’ injuries were serious enough to require hospitalization, Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern said. No one was killed.
The tornado was given the second-highest rating on the EF, or Enhanced Fujita, wind intensity rating scale, according to a preliminary damage survey released Wednesday afternoon by the National Weather Service.
The weather service classified the tornado as an EF-4, with estimated peak winds of 170 miles per hour, and measured its path at 31.82 miles long and 1 mile wide at its maximum.
Matt Wolters, meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Topeka, said Wednesday morning that the weather service would “work backward” to estimate the wind speeds based on the damage left behind. He said that involves civil engineers looking at damaged structures, determining how they were constructed and what type of wind loads they could withstand.
McGovern said he believed early warnings helped minimize harm to residents, despite the destruction of property.
“They heard the sirens, they knew the weather was coming,” McGovern said. “They paid attention, they got in the basement.”
First-responders searched about 200 homes Tuesday night, and then conducted a “secondary search” on Wednesday, expected to continue until around dusk, Wakarusa Township Fire Department Chief Mike Baxter said.
Of 160 homes that had been searched by early Wednesday afternoon, over 40 were heavily damaged, and another 20 to 25 sustained moderate damage, Baxter said. He said over 90 homes assessed had light to no damage.
photo by: Sara Shepherd
The tornado struck south of Lawrence, near U.S. Highway 56, around 6:15 p.m., McGovern said. He said the twister’s path continued northeast, crossing U.S. Highway 59 and then Kansas Highway 10, also damaging houses on the west side of Eudora.
He said the storm continued traveling northeast out of Douglas County, before hitting Linwood in Leavenworth County.
Douglas and Leavenworth counties have been added to a state disaster proclamation signed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, her office announced Wednesday afternoon.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
Posted: 6:18 p.m. Wednesday
Volunteer opportunities now available for general public
From Douglas County Emergency Management:
IF YOU NEED HELP OR WANT TO VOLUNTEER:
Please Read Carefully:
211 of the Great Plains will be coordinating our information collection to coordinate those who need help with storm clean up with those who would like to volunteer their time to help.
For people needing assistance (debris removal, tarp placement, chopping fallen trees, etc):
Dial 2-1-1 on your phone and identify your needs.
Take photos of damage, do not begin cleanup until an insurance adjuster has been notified, except to protect your property from further damage. Red Cross will also be sending out Damage Assessment teams once affected areas have been determined to be safe.
For those who would like to volunteer to help:
Dial 2-1-1 and submit your information.
Once areas have been deemed safe and a need for volunteers has been established, the location of the Volunteer Reception Center will be shared. PLEASE, do not self-deploy to disaster areas. All volunteers need to be credentialed for this event so we can have the documentation for emergency declaration relief.
We are so grateful to our community for your willingness to help each other out.
Posted: 1:22 p.m. Wednesday
Pendletons clean up heavy damage on farm east of Lawrence
By morning light, John and Karen Pendleton, owners of Pendleton’s Country Market, 1446 East 1850 Road, could see clearly how the tornado had ravaged their property east of Lawrence.
An entire barn was destroyed, as were three greenhouses and five hoop houses. Hundreds of plants had been shredded by hail or debris. Equipment was buried under rubble, and the roof had blown off the hydroponic tomato greenhouse. All the windows in their 100-year-old house were shattered.
Volunteer workers were on the scene early Wednesday helping with the cleanup. Some lined up like a bucket brigade to move hundreds of bedding plants and vegetables out of the damaged greenhouses.
“I thought 2006 was the worst ever, but this is worse,” Karen said, referring to the microburst that caused $250,000 in damage to Pendleton’s 13 years ago. Insurance adjusters had not arrived Wednesday to assess this year’s damage.
Family friend Kyle Morgison arrived to help, but first he hugged Karen.
“It seems like we just did this,” Karen said to Morgison, who had helped with cleanup in 2006.
The farm’s 15 employees, most of them part-time, were moving quickly to clear rubble.
photo by: Kathy Hanks
John and Karen have operated the farm for 39 years. John’s dad, Albert, started the farm in 1951. They grow a wide variety of vegetables, bedding plants and cut flowers.
Within a half-mile of Pendleton’s Country Market, seven houses were heavily damaged, Karen said.
As she surveyed the damage in the hydroponic greenhouse, where plenty of tomatoes still hung on vines, Karen remained optimistic.
“We’re going to have a green tomato sale this week,” she said.
photo by: Contributed photo by John Hoopes
Posted: 1:49 p.m. Wednesday
KU professor snaps dramatic photo of tornadic storm
On the University of Kansas campus, where classes were not in session, anthropology professor John Hoopes said he was one of only a handful of people who stayed in Fraser Hall when tornado sirens sounded Tuesday evening.
Before taking shelter, Hoopes hung back to snap some pictures from the sixth floor of seven-story Fraser Hall — one of the highest vantage points in Lawrence.
His snapshots, with KU’s Blake Hall in the foreground, show the wide, dark-gray cylinder looming on the horizon south of Lawrence.
“I headed to the basement, once I was able to see what the size of the storm was,” Hoopes said. “It just was pretty overwhelming to see.”
Hoopes is originally from Baltimore but has been in Lawrence about 30 years. He said the last tornado to hit Lawrence, in 2003, damaged areas near his home in western Lawrence but that this was the first time he’d actually seen a tornado himself.
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Posted: 12:19 p.m. Wednesday
Red Cross ready for displaced residents at shelter
American Red Cross workers unloaded bottled water and other supplies from a trailer and awaited storm victims Wednesday morning at a temporary shelter set up at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
Jane Blocher, director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross, said that no one stayed Tuesday night at the shelter in Building 21 at the fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St. She said that five people pre-registered to stay at the shelter Wednesday, but that those people were expected later in the day because they were out at their properties dealing with the effects of the tornado.
Blocher said she expects more people to need services as they assess damage and regroup following the storm, but those numbers aren’t yet known. She said disaster assessment volunteers had not yet determined those figures because the impacted areas were still closed off because of downed power lines.
De Soto resident Traci Gaultney and her three children were at the shelter dropping off donated bottled water, granola bars and other supplies. She said that, earlier in the day, they had dropped off water and sandwiches donated by Harps grocery in De Soto to a neighborhood affected by the tornado. She said many residents were at their homes cleaning up debris or just waiting for insurance assessments.
Blocher said the Red Cross will provide shelter, meals, basic health services and referral to other community resources for those affected. The Red Cross is also providing all meals for about 50 Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical personnel involved with the response to the storm. She said shelter and other services will be assessed day by day and provided for as long as they are needed. She said residents wishing to help could send donations to the Lawrence office, 2518 Ridge Court, or make a donation online or via phone. She asked that people not drop off clothing or other household items.
photo by: Elvyn Jones
Posted: 11:53 a.m. Wednesday
Law enforcement had extra hands on duty, eyes on tornado
When the tornado hit rural Lawrence Tuesday night, more than the usual number of Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies were on patrol, balancing responding to the emergency with keeping themselves out of harm’s way.
The tornado touched down around 6:15 p.m., close to evening shift change for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Kristen Channel said. She said numerous daytime deputies stayed late, nighttime deputies came in early and other deputies came in from home for the evening.
“As soon as the tornado warning came out, our patrol shift started assessing the situation and getting in place to where we could help monitor the tornado,” Channel said. “As soon as the tornado would pass through a certain area, our department and other first-responder agencies were right there to start checking houses to make sure that people were accounted for and to check for other injuries.”
Deputies spotted and confirmed sightings of the tornado, and called that information in, Channel said.
They also took in updates from meteorologists to ensure they were positioned in safe locations.
“We don’t necessarily have the luxury of being able to seek shelter as everybody else does, because we do need to be available to assist people,” Channel said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t take precautions to stay as safe as possible. Luckily we do have the resources such as storm spotters and emergency management, to help us know where to set up to avoid being in the path of a tornado.”
Channel emphasized, “it’s a whole lot of resources working together.”
Channel said Wednesday morning that the agency still didn’t have an exact count of personnel that responded to the tornado.
Deputies continued helping Wednesday morning with the response, which included a methodical canvass of damaged areas.
Douglas County Emergency Management is coordinating the effort, which includes law enforcement, power crews and others trying to clean up and ensure residents’ safety after the storm.
photo by: Submitted photo by Joe Leuschen
Posted: 10:40 a.m. Wednesday
Authorities on damaged areas: ‘It’s not safe for the general public’
The day after a tornado struck Douglas County, public safety officials were warning community members, even if they have good intentions, to stay away from damaged areas.
“It’s not safe for the general public to be in these areas,” Sgt. Kristen Channel of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday morning.
Downed power lines, fallen trees and gnarly debris — think pieces of twisted metal and boards full of nails — are among hazards, she said.
Led by Douglas County Emergency Management, the sheriff’s office is part of a coordinated response following up on the storm Wednesday.
Channel said sightseers were continuing to hamper official emergency response efforts.
“We are having a very difficult time doing that because there are so many people trying to get out to the areas, to either see the damage or attempt to help,” Channel said. “We can appreciate that, but we want to be able to get in and get people the help that they need as soon as we can.”
Authorities are not accepting donations or coordinating volunteers at this time, but will announce if and when such help is needed, Channel said.
photo by: Ashley Hocking
Posted: 9:43 a.m. Wednesday
Some injured people were in vehicles hit by tornado
A large number of people who were injured in Tuesday’s tornado were in vehicles that were rolled by the storm in southern Douglas County, a spokesman for the local emergency management office said Wednesday morning.
“Some of (the injuries) we believe, maybe most of them were the result of vehicles that were hit by the tornado on Highway 56 near Globe,” Bob Newton, a public information officer with Douglas County Emergency Management said on a KLWN radio interview on Wednesday morning. “When that storm crossed over the highway, it rolled some vehicles.”
Shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday, Douglas County Emergency Management said it had reports of 15 weather-related injuries, including three people who were seriously injured. No fatalities have been reported, emergency management said.
LMH Health said it treated 13 patients with injuries from the storm, including 11 people who were treated and then released. One person treated at LMH Health underwent surgery and has since been released, and one other patient was transferred to an area hospital. Newton said he believed that Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka had treated at least four people with injuries from the Douglas County storm.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
Updated: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday
Residents still without power
About 1,500 Westar Energy customers in Douglas County remained without power as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the company’s online outage map.
Earlier in the morning, Westar said about 3,700 customers total were without power after last night’s storm and estimated that about 200 power poles were knocked down along the tornado’s path. Westar said it had 120 employees working to restore power but that it could take until Thursday to restore power to everyone affected.
photo by: Ashley Hocking
Updated: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday
Roads closed in rural Douglas County
A handful of roads in rural Douglas County were closed Wednesday along the path of Tuesday night’s tornado.
The Douglas County Geographic Information Systems department has mapped some of the closures on its website.
As of 11:30 a.m., barricades had been placed near:
• Lone Star Lake: North 600 Road and East 550 Road
• Lone Star Lake: North 600 Road and East 700 Road
• South of Lawrence: North 1100 Road and East 1200 Road
• South of Lawrence: North 1100 Road and U.S. Highway 59
• South of Lawrence: North 1100 Road and East 1479 Road
• South of Lawrence: North 1000 Road and U.S. Highway 59
• South of Lawrence: North 1000 Road and East 1500 Road
• South of Lawrence: North 1062 Road and East 1500 Road
• Southeast of Lawrence: East 31st Street (North 1300 Road) and East 1600 Road
• Southeast of Lawrence: East 31st Street (North 1300 Road) and East 1750 Road (Noria Road)
• Southeast of Lawrence: East 25th Street (North 1360 Road) and East 1700 Road (Kitsmiller Road)
• Southeast of Lawrence: East 25th Street (North 1360 Road) and East 1750 Road (Noria Road)
• East of Lawrence: East 15th Street (North 1500 Road) and East 1750 Road (Noria Road)
• East of Lawrence: East 15th Street (North 1500 Road) and East 1900 Road
• East of Lawrence: East 23rd Street (North 1400 Road) and East 1750 Road (Noria Road)
• East of Lawrence: East 23rd Street (North 1400 Road) and East 1850 Road
• East of Lawrence: East 23rd Street (North 1400 Road) and East 1900 Road
• North of Eudora: North 1500 Road and East 2200 Road (Main Street)
— Journal-World staff members Chad Lawhorn, Sara Shepherd, Rochelle Valverde and Nick Gerik contributed to this report.