Tornado tears through Kansas in Wichita, Andover region
A tornado that ripped through a town outside of Wichita, Kansas damaged dozens of properties on Friday, tearing through homes and power lines, uprooting trees and hurling cars into buildings. No deaths were initially reported.
Around 50 to 100 structures were damaged in the town, Andover, according to Brandon Whipple, Mayor of Wichita. the Local YMCAs in Andover was directly hit, he said, although no injuries were reported. Photographs posted on social media showed flattened houses and overturned cars on lawns.
Residents received warnings from the National Weather Service eight minutes before the tornado hit. Their quick response to warnings prevented more serious injuries and deaths, said Chance Hayes, a meteorologist with the service. “They sheltered in houses, they sheltered in businesses, they sought refuge wherever they could for safety,” he said.
Jalynn Michler, 31, was trying to get her 5-year-old daughter to practice for a weekend dance recital when warning sirens started sounding. Within moments, she says, a friend called to tell her that a tornado was heading her way. The friend sent her a video showing a dark, twisted cloud that appeared to be right behind Ms Michler’s house.
“She said, ‘Bring your girls down to the basement now,'” Ms Michler said. “From the tone of his voice, I knew it had to be close to home. We get tornado threats all the time and normally you go down to the basement, but this was completely different. This one was real.
Ms. Michler weathered the storm with her husband and two daughters in a basement bathroom. They walked out to find their house intact, but Ms Michler learned that Prairie Creek Elementary School, where she works as a special education teacher, had been hit. School officials were assessing the damage on Saturday.
Renee Thompson Cunningham, 51, spent Friday night with her husband and two sons sitting in their driveway watching the storm brew. But what the family thought was routine spring rain became worrying when Ms Cunningham’s 14-year-old son pointed to a “huge black cloud”, she said.
“He was pointing at the cloud, and we saw it start to spin, and then it turned into this full tornado,” Ms Cunningham said. “I have never seen anything like it in my life. You could see the debris flying out of the field behind our housing estate. It got bigger and bigger. »
She said that although her family was lucky and her house remained intact, a friend lost her entire house. “They hid under the stairs and got trapped,” Ms Cunningham said. “But some people heard them screaming for help and took them out.”
The tornado that struck Andover was one of several tornadoes that touched down in Kansas and Nebraska. Tornado damage elsewhere in those states was less severe, according to the weather service. Hail up to four inches in diameter was reported in a rural area in southern Nebraska.
Severe thunderstorms are possible Saturday in parts of Texas, Arkansas and Illinois, the service said. Areas of northeastern New Mexico and western Texas could see severe thunderstorms on Sunday, bringing a high fire risk to parts of the Texas Panhandle.
Mr. Whipple, the mayor of Wichita, said on Saturday that an emergency response had begun in the city, including a shelter that was opened in a church. He urged people to stay off the streets to make way for emergency vehicles. “PLEASE stay safe, heed warnings and have a plan of action in case another tornado touches down,” he wrote. on Twitter.
The tornado in Andover was part of an intense storm system that damaged homes, trees and power lines in several Kansas counties, state officials said.
In addition to hitting Butler County, which includes Andover, the tornado struck part of Sedgwick County, west of Butler, although only minor injuries were reported, according to Sedgwick County officials.
The Andover Police Department advised followers on its Facebook page not to travel to the town. Police also confirmed that many roads leading into the town – some littered with debris and downed power lines – had been closed so they could properly assess the extent of the damage.
Winds of up to 45 miles per hour are expected to continue Saturday in the Wichita area, according to the National Weather Service, creating potentially dangerous conditions for emergency crews. Potentially severe thunderstorms are also expected on Monday.
As authorities assessed the damage, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency Friday night.
“We have learned from past experience that we cannot wait for the storm to hit before responding,” she said in a statement. “By taking these steps early, we are able to respond more quickly when counties ask for help.”