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7 minutes of devastation

Staff writer

As many as seven tornadoes were reported to have snaked their way through the county in seven minutes Friday night, but authorities confirmed only four.

One tornado four miles north of Tampa struck a farmstead. The others wove through agricultural grounds and left debris on roads.

Connie McMahan’s farmhouse, outbuildings, cars, and trees all were damaged by an EF-1 tornado four miles north of Tampa.

So were the gates to the Lutheran cemetery immediately next door to her property.

Emergency manager Randy Frank said the cemetery gates, solidly mounted in cement, snapped off at the base.

“I’m going crazy trying to get things done,” McMahan said Monday. “I’ve been on the phone all day.”

She said she was upstairs when she saw the tornado coming and did not have time to get to her cellar. Instead, she gathered her three dogs and took shelter in an interior room.

She heard the roar of wind as it blew through windows the tornado broke out — one in a room and five in her sunroom. A storm door on the sunroom also was blown out of place and would not close.

Power lines were blown down, but the line to the house was not.

Damaged were a carport east of her house, elm trees, a gate, and power lines to her barn, a hay barn, and light at the back of the property. A building that serves as her shop and craft studio was totaled.

Debris was strewn as far away as a lagoon.

“My weather radio didn’t warn me,” she said.

She emailed a Wichita television station to tell the station about the storm but heard nothing back.

“I was so lucky the night of the tornado,” she said.

Hope resident Doug Dillon stopped shortly after the tornado struck to see whether she needed anything and helped secure the sunroom door.

Before the storm, she and her son-in-law had sanded things in the kitchen.

“I was already hurting, and then I had to deal with this,” she said.

The next morning, a whole crew of neighbors and members of area Mennonite churches came to help clean up tree debris.

“My insurance agent was out picking up sticks and stuff,” she said.

Even on Monday, neighbors came to help.

“I appreciate all the help,” McMahan said. “I’ve appreciated all the help that I’ve gotten and I really am thankful for the community.”

She still needs dumpsters.

“So far I’ve been turned down,” she said.

The tornado that damaged McMahan’s property dropped to the ground at 7:57 p.m. and tracked 0.9 miles.

The weather service reported a second EF-1 tornado touched down six minutes later three miles south-southeast of Durham. That tornado also tracked 0.9 miles and knocked down an old storage shed and large trees.

Two more tornadoes, each EF-0, were reported. One was at 8:03 p.m. two miles southwest of Lehigh. It tracked 0.77 miles. The other struck at 8:04 p.m. a mile northwest of Hillsboro and tracked 0.16 miles.

Tornadoes are ranked from EF-0 to EF-5 depending on the estimated wind speed. An EF-0 tornado is the least severe, and an ET-5 tornado is the most severe.

Frank said the weather service issued five warnings for the county during the storm.

A high wind warning was issued for north of Tampa at 7:57 p.m.

A tornado warning was issued for western Marion County at 8:16 p.m.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 8:32 p.m. for eastern Marion County

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 8:36 p.m. for southern portions of the county.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 8:57 p.m. for southeastern areas of the county.

Deputies, police officers, and firefighters all were out watching the storm.

Frank said people told him there were tornadoes near Ramona, north of Sunflower Wind farm, and south of Hillsboro.

“I’ve had some people tell me there was tree damage,” Frank said.

Frank said tornadoes that traveled over fields seem not to have damaged still-small plants, but a lot of fences were broken.

Although confirmed tornadoes were confined to a strip generally along K-15 north of US-56 and generally were gone by 8:05 p.m., tornado sirens were activated at Goessel, where people attending a high school concert took shelter in the school basement; Peabody; Hillsboro; and Marion, where diners at a banquet in the Elgin Hotel also sought shelter in the basement.

“Everything went smoothly, no one panicked, and it all worked out great,” said Jennifer McDonald, event manager for the Elgin.

Frank said reports came from throughout the county.

“I was amazed at how widespread it was,” Frank said, “all the way from the north county line to the south.”

The county issued a disaster declaration Friday night, and commissioners formally signed it at a special meeting Monday morning.

Jane Welch, spokesman for the adjutant general’s office, said declaring a disaster allowed a county to call in mutual aid and request state assistance.

“If there was something that was really bad, they could access state resources if they get to a situation where they have exhausted local resources,” Welch said.

Frank asked people who see severe weather to call the sheriff’s office to report it.

If they have weather damage after Friday’s storm, they also should also call the sheriff’s office so the damage can be confirmed. That’s in addition to calling their insurance company, he said.

He reminded people that it’s better to seek shelter than to shoot videos or photos of tornadoes.

“Remember, safety first with these severe storms,” Frank said. “Standing outside is not a safe place to be. Make sure you have a family disaster plan, and make sure you have a communications plan. What that is, is a way to let your family know you are OK.”

If caught driving when a tornado strikes, it’s best to pull over.

“The lowest spot is the best place to be,” Frank said. “A car is a higher spot. Before you throw yourself in a ditch, make sure it’s not full of water. Don’t try to outrun it. Seek safety as quickly as possible.”

Last modified May 5, 2022

 

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