Residents, Officials Credit Heeding Warnings With Saving Lives

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

As Saturday night's strong and dangerous storm moved into the Wichita metro area, hundreds of thousands of residents headed for shelter.

Many local families rode the storm out in their shelters and local leaders are praising the preparedness of those residents.

Still perhaps the best news in the aftermath of Saturday's storms is the fact that, so far, there are still no reported fatalities or even critical injuries.

Sunday afternoon, City of Wichita and Sedgwick County leaders said preparation on the part of residents is the reason the story here in Sedgwick County is not a whole lot worse.

"I think a lot of recognition should go out to the citizens and we thank you for paying attention to the alarms that actually went off and the warning signs because that's the reason that we, at this point in time, have not received any fatalities or anything of that nature," Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said Sunday afternoon.

"It was late at night, it's 10:30 at night and we didn't know any places that were open," Oaklawn resident Lucio Lopez said of his family's decision to ride the storm out in a closet of their home just north of the intersection of 47th Street South and Clifton.

Those reasons, combined with the fact it was dark and nearly impossible to see the approaching tornado is why the Lopez family chose to seek shelter in their home. They chose the closet earlier in the week, when forecasters started alerting residents of Kansas and other plains states to be prepared for severe weather.

Lopez described Saturday night's arrival of that severe weather.

"Sounded like it was a real loud noise and we got everybody in the closet," Lopez said. "The wind started picking up with a whistling sound. All I know is we were in the closet and I was trying to hold the door shut and it kept on, like trying to open."

Lopez said he, his wife, two sons and daughter were prepared for the storm al day and were ready to move to shelter once they knew potentially deadly weather was headed their way.

Many of their neighbors, who like the Lopez family do not have basements, had plans to get to safety, too.

"A few of the neighbors, they scattered," Lopez said. "They were gone. They were gone right when the sirens went off."

All of those neighbors were able to get home safely to begin the clean-up process Sunday morning.

Local leaders insist alertness by residents is why Sunday didn't bring about a different, much more tragic story.

"So thank you for paying attention, doing what you were supposed to do," Brewer said. "Taking care of your neighbors, moving everyone to a safe spot and recognizing that it was a real tornado or something that was happening here in the City of Wichita."

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