Kan. residents assess damage after twisters

As a tornado bore down on their town, Debby Peterson and her husband knew they had to find shelter. Their own home didn't have a basement, so they ran to their neighbor's.

They were standing on the back deck when the detached, two-car garage flew past them and into the back of the house. They rapped on the windows of the neighbor's basement and took shelter there as the storm stripped shingles from their home and blew out its windows.

“We didn't get a scratch, bruise or anything,” Peterson said. “The hand of God must have been sitting just right on top of us.”

Others in Chapman weren't as lucky.

The twister tore a path of destruction six blocks wide through the town of 1,400 people about 140 miles west of Kansas City on Wednesday night. It left one woman dead, reduced houses and businesses to rubble, and snapped utility poles and trees.

Officials estimated the damage at more than $20 million and said the tornado destroyed or heavily damaged 65 buildings, including homes.

Elsewhere Wednesday, tornadoes caused extensive damage at Kansas State University in Manhattan and killed one person in the tiny town of Soldier.

Eastern Kansas endured another round of spring storms Thursday night and Friday morning. The National Weather Service said several tornados were spotted in Chase County, but it had no reports of damage or injuries.

Back in Chapman, residents whose homes were not seriously damaged were allowed back in to collect personal belongings, provided they did not violate a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Many survivors had vivid – and frightening – memories.

About 100 people huddled in two locker rooms in the school district's gymnasium for shelter as the tornado roared over them.

Construction worker Zac Arensman shielded his 4-year-old stepdaughter with his body after abandoning his family's nearby home. After the twister passed, he and others used a dislodged door as a stretcher to carry to safety a man who had been trapped in his car, one of three people authorities said had been critically injured.

Outside the gym, several cars looked as if they had been tossed from the parking lot into a nearby field. The elementary and middle schools next to the gym lost part of their roofs and many of their windows and suffered other damage. The high school was in even worse shape, with dislodged cement blocks and bricks from the building strewn around it.

Officials said about 70 percent of the economic damage caused by the storm was suffered by the school system. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said students would begin classes in temporary buildings in the fall.

“The devastation is enormous. I mean, you get a real sense of the power of Mother Nature. It looks like a bomb went off,” Sebelius said. “The schools are really dismantled.”

So was Kansas State, about 35 miles away.

Storm damage there, including roofs torn off and windows blown out, was estimated to exceed $20 million, said Tom Rawson, the university's vice president for administration and finance. Thursday's classes were canceled.

About 30 summer school classes were taught at temporary locations Friday.