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Tornado rakes small KS town

BY SUSAN KIM | HOISINGTON, KS | April 22, 2001

"It wasn't that the warning systems wasn't working -- it's that there was not time."

—Linda Flanders

Even the tornado veterans in this small town were shocked when a twister touched down Saturday night, killing one, injuring more than 20, and damaging 400 homes.

Resident Linda Flanders, who has lived through three tornadoes, said there was no warning. "This one was different because the news reports were talking about heavy rain and hail. But we never got it. The tornado was just here and gone. We usually at least get hail. It wasn't that the warning system wasn't working -- it's that there was not time."

The town's hospital and high school were badly damaged, and the Hoisington Catholic Church served as a temporary hospital Saturday night. That medical response unit was moved to City Hall by Sunday, where an emergency command center was set up.

Emergency crews are still searching for survivors, and the most severely damaged parts of town have been roped off. "I'm afraid the death toll may go up," said Flanders. "There are still an awful lot of people unaccounted for."

The tornado touched down on prom night but fortunately the prom was being held in the Knights of Columbus hall and students were still at the dance when the twister hit. The tornado cut a 1.25-mile long swath through town. "This is certainly a prom they'll remember," said Flanders.

Flanders, who is a member of the First United Methodist Church, said her church was serving as an insurance center in which survivors could meet with insurance representatives. Survivors are being housed in the city hall auditorium.

Response team members from the Kansas West United Methodist Conference were on the scene by Saturday night. A Church World Service disaster resource facilitator will visit the area Tuesday.

Local pastors are on site at city hall to offer support for survivors. "There is a tremendous amount of damage," said Flanders, but added that the town is responding with a united effort. "Everybody knows everybody here."

The Church of the Nazarene's parsonage was completely destroyed, and the sanctuary lost windows, said member Eldred Marsh.

The Cordordia Lutheran Church also reported broken windows, and the First United Methodist Church sustained minor damage.

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