Weather News

‘Where do you even start?’: Linwood residents stunned by shattered homes

Along Kansas 32 highway in Linwood, scenes of destruction — and resilience — unfolded as residents assessed damage from an EF-4 tornado that struck the small town Tuesday night.

Dena Duffin stood in her front lawn in a T-shirt, shorts and cowboy boots, holding a can of Coors Wednesday morning.

Behind her lay the remnants of the home she and her family have lived in for the past 12 years. The wall of the master bedroom had been ripped off, the family’s belongings tossed, trampled and toppled.

“I think this calls for a beer kind of morning,” she said.

Despite the devastation, Duffin was in good spirits, she said, because “What else are you supposed to do?”

Her husband and her son were at home when the tornado hit, but weren’t harmed.

The family found one of their cats — Leo — Wednesday morning. They were searching for another, Spitfire, who remained missing.

Looking at the house, Duffin said, was “just a little overwhelming.”

“It’s like where do you even start?”

The tornado that tore through Linwood Tuesday caused widespread damage, wrecking many homes and buildings. Fifty structures were affected. Of those, 19 were destroyed, according to James Fricke, spokesman for Leavenworth County Emergency Management. Three people had minor injuries.

Before the tornado reached the town the storm had left about 17 people injured in Douglas County.

In Linwood, Michael Leavy got home from work early Tuesday. He sat down and was listening to music when the warning was issued.

Leavy and his wife grabbed blankets and went into a basement bathroom.

“It started to roar,” he said. “It started to suck.”

When they climbed out of the basement, they saw devastation everywhere, he said. They could look up in the house they lived in for 23 years and see the sky.

One of their alpacas died. Two others have been fostered out for the time being.

Volunteers from a Paola excavating company came to Linwood to help with the wreckage.

“It’s just the neighborly thing to do,” said Delbert Walters. “We knew a lot of people would need help.”

Walters was sifting through items and clearing debris around Duffin’s house. He said he found some valuables, including jewelry, that got returned to the family.

In the parking lot of Linwood Elementary, others mobilized to help.

Heart to Heart International set up a mobile medical response site.

Sandy Turner, a retired nurse, said they can provide first-aid care and other services, such as tetanus shots.

Though no serious injuries were reported in the tornado, risk remains in the cleanup effort with downed power lines, shards of wood and glass strewn about, and several people operating chainsaws to clear trees.

There were also pallets of bottled water and other donations being collected in the school’s parking lot.

The Salvation Army announced Wednesday that it had teams in Lawrence and was ready to help also in Linwood and in Mound City, Missouri. The Red Cross was also distributing boxes for salvageable belongings, tarps, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Shoba Brown has been a volunteer since 2005. She said she feels the need to help and that “someday it could be me.”

Along the Kansas 32, Ann Hurt’s home suffered considerable damage. She was alone in the basement when the tornado came through.

“You’re just sitting thinking ‘Oh my God, there goes the roof,’” she said.

Hurt had rebuilt the home about a year and a half ago, after an electrical fire destroyed the previous residence.

On Wednesday she said she felt lost. But she was still grateful.

“It’s all material,” Hurt said. “I’m OK. It’s all good.”

Along that stretch of highway, cars and trucks laid in ditches, overturned. A mattress was tangled in a tree. A field of broken wood had formed.

Fran Jones and her husband rode out the tornado under the stairs of their home, which was leveled. The storm passed by in about a minute, Jones said. She and her husband escaped harm with only the clothes on their backs and some medicine they managed to find, and then went to stay with family.

They returned Wednesday to survey what was left.

On the street where the Joneses live, some family photos were found. A bottle of muddied but unbroken champagne was saved. And an American flag sat upright.

As the couple searched through piles of rubble to find other belongings, Fran Jones said, “I just feel numb.”

But without a scratch. “God was certainly with us,” she added.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Katie Moore covers crime and justice issues for The Star. She is a University of Kansas graduate and was previously a reporter in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.