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Twisters spark vivid memories


NORTHWESTERN TEXAS (May 2, 2000) -- At least four

tornadoes struck Texas around 6 p.m. Sunday when a line

of severe fast-moving thunderstorms traveled through

areas in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

The small northwestern Texas town of Elbert, population 150,

lost its cotton gin, as well as at least three mobile

homes, barns, and other businesses. Several other homes

were shifted off their foundations.

Twisters tore down power lines and crews were still

working Monday night to restore electricity. Large hail caused

damage as well.

There were no reports of serious injuries.

Three twisters were confirmed by the National Weather

Service in Young County, with one near the town of Olney

reported to be a half mile wide. Olney is home to about

3,300 people.

The First Baptist Church in Throckmorton is opening today as a

service center for tornado survivors.

"Cleanup has begun," said church member Donna Frazier.

Other area churches are standing by ready to offer help.

"We didn't have any damage and we feel very fortunate

about that. If we are called on to do anything, we're

ready," said church member Sylvia Furr.

Many residents of the area remember when a tornado hit

Wichita Falls - some 45 miles from Olney - in 1979. "In

fact, that's the last big weather event I can remember,"

said Olney resident Jan Simmons.

Those who didn't suffer damage from this latest spring

storm say they are grateful for the rain it brought.

"This is the first good rain we've had for a long time,"

said Pat Buckalew, who has lived in the town of Graham

for more than 40 years. "And even those of us who had

damage are thinking that, when nobody loses their life,

we're doing well and it's a blessing."

Texas was listed as a state likely to suffer from

ongoing drought in a report released by the U.S.

Departments of Commerce and Agriculture.

The potential threat to crops and water supplies has

concerned farmers, disaster response groups, agriculture

organizations, and the government alike.

Agriculture Department officials say it is too early to

tell how the drought will impact food prices. However,

more than 60 percent of the winter wheat crop in Texas

is rated no better than poor.

The drought could affect not only the state's farmers

but its ranchers as well. Severe drought usually means

farmers and ranchers can't harvest hay, which leads to

feed shortages for their livestock.

Storms hit areas in Kansas and Oklahoma on Sunday night

as well. Cherri Baer, Church World Service disaster

resource consultant, said rainfall could slow the

rebuild and recovery process in Parsons, KS and other

areas in rural southeast Kansas that were hit by

tornadoes less than two weeks ago. Several residents

were injured by flying debris, especially in Parsons,

which was hardest hit. The towns of Erie and Walnut

sustained significant damages as well.

Many residents in Wichita and Haysville, KS anxiously

followed tornado watches and warnings, remembering giant

twisters that struck their areas on May 3, 1999 --

almost one year ago.

Both those areas are planning anniversary celebrations

to celebrate their ongoing recovery and memorial

services to honor those who died.

Haysville, a town of

9,500 that was all but wiped out, is planning a weeklong

anniversary event, said DeeAnn Konkel, director of

Haysville Area Disaster Recovery. Last May's tornado cut

a path directly through the working class community and

destroyed the business district, occurring one week

after the eight-year anniversary of a tornado that

killed nearly 20 people in Kansas. It also occurred only

a year and only a year after a grain elevator exploded

in Haysville, killing seven employees.

"Wednesday is the actual anniversary day, and we're

holding a tree planting in a park area that was hit by

the tornado. The planting will be at sundown, a solemn

time and occasion," she said.

On Thursday, residents will gather for a prayer service

at noon to honor those who died, and on Friday a street

dance celebration will be held. Then, Sunday will end

the anniversary observance with an ecumenical

Celebration of Triumph service in the park, said Konkel.

Haysville Disaster Area Recovery is an interfaith

committee that has been overseeing long-term response.

Wichita has a similar group. In Wichita, the tornadoes

destroyed 1,100 homes and damaged 2,500. Both interfaith

groups work with city leaders, police, and county mental

health officials.

Oklahoma City saw even more severe damages than Kansas

in last May's storm. Forty-six people died and thousands

of homes were destroyed. Many residents there are

planning anniversary observances as well.

Last May's storm cut a 19-mile long, half-mile wide

swath May 3 through Oklahoma City and the surrounding

areas, destroying an estimated 10,000 homes and

businesses and causing more than $1 billion in damages.

Officials rated the storm an F5, the most powerful.

Small towns in several outlying areas were virtually

wiped out.

Posted May 2, 2000

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