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Twister changes what's 'normal'

BY SUSAN KIM | WICHITA | May 5, 1999

WICHITA (May 5, 1999) -- Jean Detwiler was eating dinner Monday night when

tornado warning sirens sounded -- no unusual occurrence for this lifelong

resident of Kansas in her mid-70s.

But she retreated to the basement, where she and a friend hid under a pool

table. "We heard two bangs, then dead silence," she said. "It was over in a

matter of seconds."

But the massive damage her house sustained will take six months or more to

repair. The tarpaper roof blew off a school across the street and formed a

giant roll which stabbed through the garage. A pole supporting the garage

overhang blew through the house, sending the garage door down to smash her

friend's 1999 pick-up truck. Debris and insulation was in a four-foot pile

against the house.

Detwiler, now living with her daughter in Wichita, is grateful that she

came through without a scratch. She is also grateful for the efforts of

volunteers, some she knows as family, friends, and neighbors, some she

simply thanks as anonymous but kind hearts.

"The night it happened, the pastor and his wife came over to be with me,

since we still have no power or phones, but since then, the help just

hasn't stopped," she said. Detwiler, a member of Dawson United Methodist

Church, has been assisted by volunteers from several local churches.

"Everyone has pitched in to help," she said. "The first day, one neighbor's

friend came with a heavy tractor and a roller to move debris. Another man

brought a chainsaw and worked on a big pine tree that had toppled down. A

group of women brought sub sandwiches, cookies, and iced tea."

Not just hard labor but a simple kind word can make a big difference, she

added. "Different people I've known over the years but maybe haven't seen

for awhile have stopped by. They say, 'this one is your house? What can I

do?' "

Detwiler said she still feels blessed. "My house wasn't the worst one. A

house two doors down will have to be demolished."

An insurance appraiser who visited today estimated it will be six months

before Detwiler can move back into her home. Dehumidifiers have been set up

throughout the house to dry out the soaked walls and floor.

Detwiler is more than willing to wait six months -- but fears the wait

could be even longer for others. "Can you imagine the contruction that will

have to be done on these homes?" she said. "But that's okay, it will happen

little by little. Today my church choir director came over and helped me

load my china into boxes."

People who live in tornado-prone areas may be used to alarms -- but they're

not used to this level of destruction, she added. "You never think of it

happening to you. I mean, hearing the alarm, going to the basement --

that's normal life. Well, life out here certainly isn't normal anymore."

Kathy Kruger Noble, who lives in the parsonage of Dawson United Methodist

Church near Detwiler, said that the tornado cut through her back yard. It

damaged the roof of both the parsonage and the church. "That's as close as

I ever want to get," said Noble.

Posted May 6, 1999

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