Community Comes Together to Help Storm Victims

By: KAKE News Email
By: KAKE News Email

Friday, May 8, 2009

The severe storms that moved through Kansas Friday morning caused some major damage throughout the area. One community hit by the spring storms came together Friday to help each other in a time of need.

Members of the Benton Church gathered first thing Friday morning after realizing that much of their community - and neighboring Towanda - suffered damage. They say it's just part of helping each other out as neighbors.

"We just got here and started taking names and addresses," said Pastor Rob Schmutz. "Finding out who was in need... we just started sending out crews."

The early morning storms wiped out power to Benton and Towanda. Several homes had their roofs ripped off. And tree limbs pierced through walls and ceilings. As the day ended, the Benton Church congregation decided to feed anybody that came.

"We've had close to 200 people from the community that have come through, and from the area, not church people," Schmutz said. "These are people just trying to help. We're just providing food for those that have been affected by the storms."

On Saturday, members of the congregation will spread out and offer help to anyone who needs it in Benton and Towanda. Paula Claycamp helped organize the effort. After her home was wiped completely off its foundation in the 1991 tornado, she knows very well what it's like to suddenly have nothing.

"I just felt like I needed to do something," Claycamp said. "I remember that day, people dropped off coolers with sandwiches and water and food. I remember how much we appreciated it. With these people not having power... they need to eat."

Meanwhile, residents in Towanda and Benton have been told they may not have power restored until Wednesday.

Heavy thunderstorms moved through the state overnight and early Friday morning. Thousands of Westar Energy customers lost power in the storms. Many have their power back on now, except those in Butler County, which appears to have been hit the hardest.

Butler County emergency crews say the town of Towanda was the hardest hit.

The National Weather Service released a map of the damage area, including a large area hit with winds between 80 and 100 miles per hour. To see the map, click on the link below.

Wilson County Emergency Management is responding to damage from straight line winds and hail which hit the area about 4 am this morning. The most damage appears to be in New Albany, west of Fredonia.

The National Weather Service has estimated the winds from the storm were at 80-100 mph, with some areas possibly having winds of up to 120 mph.

The New Albany United Methodist church has collapsed, and there is structural damage to some homes. One death has been confirmed in New Albany.

The Kansas East Conference United Methodist “Volunteers in Mission” disaster trailer is on the way to New Albany to assist in the response.

Altoona has also reported roof damage at several locations. Many sheds and outbuildings have been reported destroyed in rural areas throughout the county.

Numerous power lines and poles are down in the county, and Fredonia is without electricity at this time. Other damage includes reports of many trees down. Rain has caused some localized flash flooding.

Neodesha appears to have little damage, and Neodesha emergency responders are assisting in other areas. The Wilson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated at the Law Enforcement Center in Fredonia. Rick Brown, Wilson County Emergency Manager is the Incident commander. There is no internet access at the EOC at this time.

In El Dorado, high winds pulled the roof off the Beijing Restaurant. El Dorado public schools report one of their elementary schools lost about one-third of its roof. Another elementary's roof was also damaged. The new high school under construction has several broken windows. None of the El Dorado schools have power and all classes are canceled for today.

In northeast Sedgwick County, near K-254, homes and cars suffered minor damage.

The storms knocked out power to thousands. At 12:50 p.m. Westar Energy reported 6665 customers in Butler County without power, and 715 in Sedgwick County. In Southeast Kansas, there are 3693 customers without electricity in Crawford County and 1816 in Labette County. At 1:30 p.m., Westar said it could take 3-4 days to have all power restored in Butler County.

Heavy rainfall forced the closing of a 20-mile stretch of the Kansas Turnpike near Emporia around 6 a.m. after the Highway Patrol received reports of water covering the highway. The interstate was reopened after about an hour. But northbound traffic is down to one lane while crews repair the shoulder.

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