‘Thousands of pieces’: Kansas tornado debris fell on KCI airfield, flights delayed

Kansas City International Airport announced it was open again about 12:15 a.m. early Wednesday, hours after it was shut down by a tornado that ripped across northeastern Kansas.

The airport posted photos on Twitter of debris that workers had cleaned up from the airfield, much of it presumed to be material carried there from tornado damage in Linwood, Kansas, 47 miles away.

Nearly three dozen flights were canceled at the airport Wednesday.

“Thousands of pieces over millions of square feet,” airport officials said on Twitter. “Crews working feverishly to clean up debris, much from a distant greenhouse/nursery.”

“One piece in an engine can be catastrophic,” officials said. “Safety first.”

Hours earlier, the airport had announced about 8 p.m. its airfield was closed because of the tornado, which was tearing its way on a path that saw it hit the Lawrence area, where about a dozen people were reported injured, and Linwood, where many homes and buildings were smashed.

Airport officials had given the all-clear after moving travelers into parking garage tunnels for shelter, and hoped to reopen the airport in a few hours.

Ultimately it took longer, as the airfield remained littered with storm debris, including tree limbs and pieces of structures from far away. Workers identified pots, foam, wall panels plant ID tags spread across millions of square feet.

Airport workers checked parking lots and reported no damaged vehicles as of 10:20 p.m.

The airport announced the airfield and runways were open about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Early morning flights into and out of KCI were being affected. As of 7:30 a.m., there were a total of 32 cancellations, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. Southwest Airlines, the largest airline at KCI, had 25 of those cancellations.

Travelers were being urged to contact their airline to make sure their flights were not delayed or canceled. KCI’s flight status website www.flykci.com was not working Wednesday morning.

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.