Tornado kills man, destroys 20 homes in Kansas town

Posted May 22, 2011, at 10:56 a.m.
Storms clouds pass behind Buck Creek School near Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, May 21.
Orlin Wagner | AP
Storms clouds pass behind Buck Creek School near Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, May 21.

READING, Kan.  — A tornado swept through a small eastern Kansas town, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes, as severe thunderstorms pelted the region with hail that some residents said was the size of baseballs, authorities said early Sunday.

A man was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Newman Regional Hospital in Emporia, about 20 miles from where the tornado hit Saturday night in Reading, hospital supervisor Deb Gould said. She said two other people were brought in with injuries but she had no further details.

Five people were injured in all, along with the person killed, said Sharon Watson, the spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She did not have details on their injuries or know whether all were hospitalized.

About 200 homes were damaged in and around the town of about 250 people, Watson said. The local post office and volunteer fire department were damaged, and all roads in and out of the town have been closed off. Reading is about 50 miles south of Topeka.

Rev. Lyle Williams, who lives in Emporia and is a pastor for about 10 worshipers at the Reading First Baptist Church, said the church suffered extensive damage.

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad,” he told the AP. “My daughter was out there and told me about it.”

“I’m not going to be able to have church today that’s for sure,” he added, saying he’s been a pastor at the church for 21 years.

Power had been restored in the town by early Sunday, and a shelter was set up at a local school. The tornado was reported about 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Watson said.

While many states have been struck by severe storms this spring, Kansas has been having one of its lightest tornado seasons in decades, according to the National Weather Service. Until Saturday, no tornadoes had been reported in May, a month that averages nearly 30. Last May, 127 tornadoes tore through the state.

For the year so far, the state had seen only eight tornadoes, compared to the January-to-May average of about 44.

The tornado season picked up late Saturday, however. Powerful storms rolled across the northeast part of the state, spawning funnel clouds and hail that ripped limbs off of trees and shattered windows. In Topeka, residents reported hail the size of golf balls and in some cases baseballs.

Along with the tornado that hit Reading, the National Weather Service confirmed one touched down in Topeka and northeast of the city near Lake Perry, where damage was reported at a nearby campsite, Watson said.

Gov. Sam Brownback declared an emergency for 16 counties, including the one surrounding Reading, Watson said. The declaration allows state resources to be used in recovery and cleanup and paves the way for federal assistance if needed. Watson said a state team had been sent to Reading to help local officials with recovery work.

 

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