Weather News

At least 12 injured, widespread damage reported after tornado hits Lawrence, Linwood

After a tornado ripped through northeastern Kansas Tuesday evening, at least a dozen people were reported injured in Douglas County, several homes were damaged and more than 13,000 were without power.

In Lawrence police reported large trees down, along with power lines and debris along roads on the southeastern edge of the city.

Some areas were impassable, police said, noting that the tornado appeared to have passed outside the city limits. Soon after, to the east, the town of Linwood was badly hit, with many homes and other buildings damaged but no major injuries reported Tuesday night.

Sgt. Kristen Channel of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said there were injuries reported in Douglas County from the tornado, but as of Tuesday evening could not say how many or severe they were.

“We know some have gone to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and we do know that some have been taken to other area hospitals,” Channel told The Star.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Janice Early said the hospital had received 12 patients with injuries from the tornado.

She added there were no reports of fatalities.

Channel said reports of damage started at Lone Star Lake in southwest Douglas County at about 6:15 p.m.

The tornado resulted in reports of “pretty serious and extensive damage” to residences about two miles south of Lawrence, Channel said. The path continued on to the northeast and resulted in damage between Lawrence and Eudora before moving into Johnson County.

More damage was reported near Linwood and Bonner Springs after the tornado headed northeast.

Police began blocking roads around Linwood shortly after the tornado passed through.

About a mile and half west of Linwood, the smell of gasoline soaked the air. Already the buzz of chainsaws could be heard up and down the roads into town. Felled trees littered the way in.

Mark Duffin, 48, standing outside his smashed house west of Linwood, works for the railroad and he can tell you one thing: A tornado doesn’t sound like a freight train.

Duffin said his wife 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.

They owned the house for about 14 years. He and his family had been thinking of moving.

Duffin’s advice: “Watch the news, keep your head down, and be prepared. I had a plan for years, I’ve lived here a long time.”

Asked how he remained so calm after the disaster, 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.”

In Linwood, houses were damaged and destroyed for a mile in any direction, but an eerie quiet set in. Not many people were moving about in a neighborhood were at least a dozen houses were damaged, and some destroyed.

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 it came this time, he was at home watching TV. It was a cable show, so they didn’t interrupt with the weather report.

It was his son who called him: “Put your but 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 though it.”

About 13,679 customers remained without power at 9:20 p.m. after the storm passed in east-central and northeast Kansas, according to an online outage map provided by Westar Energy.

Kris Craven, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said crews will be sent out on Wednesday to assess the damage in Douglas County and possibly Osage County, “depending on where the tornado actually started.” Craven said the first tornado warning associated with the storm went out at 4:39 p.m. for parts of Osage and Lyon counties.

As the storm moved northeast, tornado warnings popped up in the Kansas City metro.

At Kansas City International Airport, storm debris closed airfields, according to a tweet the airport posted at 8:10 p.m.

A little more than an hour earlier, the airport had tweeted that it moved customers into the parking garage tunnels to shelter in place. The all-clear was given at 7:45 p.m.

KCI officials hoped to reopen at 10:30 p.m. but it was about 12:15 a.m. before officials announced the airfield was open again.

In Wyandotte County, Unified Government spokesman Edwin Birch said before 8 p.m. that no casualties had been reported. “Still assessing damage,” he said in a text message. “Right now, a few uprooted trees, reports of damage to structures and power outages.”

Birch added later that the storm’s damage in Wyandotte County had been largely in the Bonner Springs area. Reports of power outages, uprooted trees and structural damage to buildings in Bonner Springs had been received by the UG, Birch said.

Jim Walters, a Unified Government Commissioner whose district covers Bonner Springs, said that near where he lives in south Bonner Springs, the tornado’s impact mostly took the form of tree damage.

Another tornado warning was issued for Clay and Ray counties as the National Weather Service shared a report of a “large and extremely dangerous” tornado. The warning was canceled just before 8:30 p.m.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter that no injuries have been reported but some storm damage was seen east of Kearney.

Andy Bailey, a National Weather Service meteorologist for the Kansas City office, said survey crews would be going to Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties as well as Clay County and the Excelsior Springs area to assess the storm damage.

“Damage survey results probably won’t be completed until sometime tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon,” Bailey said. “It’s going to be fairly extensive in both areas, so there’s a lot to do tomorrow.”

Videos and photos taken in parts of east-central and northeast Kansas showed downed trees and homes heavily damaged:

Star reporters Katie Moore, Judy Thomas, Luke Nozicka and Nicole Asbury contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to the report.

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Kaitlyn Schwers covers breaking news and crime at night for The Kansas City Star. Originally from Willard, Mo., she spent nearly three years reporting in Arkansas and Illinois before returning to Missouri and joining The Star in 2017.
Eric Adler has won numerous national, regional and local awards for his reporting that often tells the extraordinary tales of ordinary people. A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in NY, he also teaches journalism ethics at the University of Kansas.