Massive rain-wrapped tornado passes south of Lawrence
A tornado ripped through northeast Kansas Tuesday evening, leveling homes and other structures in one small community, as residents across the Kansas City area weathered the latest round of severe storms.
Meteorologists tracked the devastating storms starting after 4:30 p.m., and the warnings and funnel cloud sightings continued through the night in both Kansas and Missouri.
Before 8 p.m., emergency crews headed to Linwood, in Leavenworth County, after reports of damaged structures. As darkness fell and an eerie quiet set in, the destruction was clear: At least a dozen houses were damaged or destroyed, some wiped from their foundations and others ripped apart by violent winds.
About a dozen people had been reported injured in Douglas County, but the extent of those injuries was unknown late Tuesday.
Kansas City International Airport temporarily halted flights and evacuated people to tunnels for shelter. They remained there for about an hour.
South of Lawrence, almost no home went untouched in a neighborhood near U.S. 56 and 1000 Road, where the tornado struck before moving on to Linwood. Police reported debris along roads and large trees and power lines down.
Billy Brumley, who lost his entire roof as well as a work shed to the storm, yelled up the street to a family with young children and an elderly couple the minute he felt safe enough to leave his house.
Just minutes before, he was lying under the support beams in his basement, praying for his life.
“I’m fortunate to be alive. We’ve lost a lot here today but got our life,” Brumley said.
The family up the road lost their entire house. Cara Muths, another neighbor, said they needed to be cut out of the wreckage with chainsaws so they could get to shelter for the evening.
Her home, which she grew up in, had managed to escape with minimal damage. She said it had been standing since 1876.
Every home on the street could be seen with trees toppled in front, none had power, many had seen damage to barns and others felt damage directly to their home.
“You never think it’s gonna happen to you,” said Mike Hart, who lost the roof and large chunks of a house he had lived in for more than 30 years. He said the storm ran through quickly — what felt like 15 seconds.
“It’s almost a lack of feeling,” said Carole Laroue, who lives a couple doors down.
East of Lawrence, on the approach to Linwood, the smell of gasoline and the buzz of chainsaws filled the air up and down the roads. Felled trees littered the way in.
Mark Duffin, 48, who stood outside his smashed house west of Linwood Tuesday night, said his wife had called him and told him the weather was getting seriously bad.
Then it was deathly calm at their home on Golden Road. Duffin checked the TV. The reception was bad, but the message was clear: The tornado was headed right for them.
The next thing he knew, the walls of his house were coming down.
He grabbed a mattress and followed his 13-year-old son down to the basement, and used the mattress to protect him.
The house came crashing down around them.
Duffin said he had owned the house for about 14 years. He and his family had been thinking of moving.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Markell Williams said authorities were making sure everyone was accounted for and would be going house-to-house in the affected areas in Linwood.
Some homes were “totally destroyed,” Williams said, with other damage to power lines and vehicles being reported. Cattle were also on the loose.
A greenhouse appeared to be completely flattened. Numerous emergency vehicles lined the street leading up to the business for a short time. It’s unclear if anyone was injured, but one person said employees were working on the second shift when the tornado came through.
Several roads into Linwood and along Kansas 32 were blocked because of debris and downed power lines.
One couple said they were in the basement when the storm hit.
David Denham said he felt the air pressure change and heard the storm pass over him.
His wife, Lisa Denham, said, “I felt something different, just started praying.”
With only minor damage, the couple said they considered themselves fortunate.
No significant injuries or deaths were reported in Linwood or along the Kansas 32 corridor, which was heavily damaged, according to Leavenworth County Sheriff Andy Dedeke.
The storm then progressed through the Kansas City area and towns to the north.
It was part of a massive severe weather system in the central United States that produced at least eight tornadoes a day for 11 straight days, which ties a record.
Residents across the area posted photos and videos on social media, sharing reports of damage.
The storm that kept the area on edge for hours began developing south of Kansas City, on the Kansas side, just as many were headed from work or just got home.
Kris Craven, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Topeka, said the first tornado warning associated with the storm went out at 4:39 p.m. for parts of Osage and Lyon counties.
A little over an hour later, at 5:41 p.m., a severe thunderstorm “capable of producing a tornado” was observed near Pomona Lake, moving northeast at 35 mph, the weather service said.
Twenty minutes later, just after 6 p.m., “tornadic circulation” was seen south of Clinton Lake, the weather service said in a tweet. The storm would likely be “difficult to see,” the post added.
Then at 6:10 p.m., a tornado was reported south of Lone Star, moving northeast. A tweet from the National Weather Service in Topeka indicated that its radar “confirmed debris from the tornado” about a mile east of Lone Star.
After hitting areas around Lawrence and Linwood, the tornado continued east into Missouri.
The National Weather Service used urgent language on social media to warn residents on both sides of the state line of the seriousness of the storm.
“The heart of KC is in this tornado warning! This is a dangerous situation! TAKE SHELTER NOW!,” the weather service posted in a tweet at 7:21 p.m.
In a tweet at 8:08 p.m., the National Weather Service in Kansas City said a “strong tornado” was on the ground, heading toward Excelsior Estates. It warned that Excelsior Springs Hospital was close to, and possibly in the path of, the storm.
At 8:02 p.m., a storm “capable of producing a tornado” was observed over Kearney, moving east at 35 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Kansas City, and a warning was issued for northeastern Clay County and northwestern Ray County until 8:30 p.m.
Duffin, the Linwood resident, had some advice: Watch the news, keep your head down, and be prepared.
“I had a plan for years. I’ve lived here a long time,” he said.
Asked how he remained so calm after the disaster Tuesday evening, he laughed.
“I’m just glad I found my two dogs alive,” he said. “Wife’s alive, family’s alive, I’m alive. So, that’s it.”
Dennie Roberts emerged unharmed physically from the tornado near Linwood.
But he choked up a little when he talked about what just happened. He thought of his wife, Sherry, who died of injuries from a tornado not far away in 2003.
When the storm came this time, he was at home watching TV. It was a cable show, so it wasn’t interrupted with the weather report.
It was his son who called him: “Put your butt in the basement,” the son said.
That’s what Roberts did. He crouched there, on the phone with his son.
“We’ll see if the good Lord blesses me,” he said.
“He did,” Roberts said later, getting in his car to drive away and meet some friends for dinner. “He carried me through it.”
Star reporters Katie Bernard, Katie Moore and Steve Vockrodt, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.