Damage from tornadoes that ripped through Douglas County, Kansas, last week have been added to the list of priorities for the Great Plains Disaster Response team, joining flooding in Kansas and Nebraska.
Douglas County officials said the May 28 tornado injured 17 people, three of them seriously, and damaged more than 60 homes, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. At its peak, the twister was a mile wide and had wind speeds of 170 mph. The tornado was the county’s first measured at EF-4 since 1952.
Sheriff Ken McGovern said the tornado was devastating to a number of Douglas County residents.
“I’ve seen several of them — they’ve lost everything,” McGovern told the Journal-World. “They’re trying to get their lives back together at the moment.”
Although storms caused destruction in Linwood, Kansas, the Rev. Hollie Tapley said Great Plains crews are concentrating their efforts in Douglas County while other faith-based organizations are tackling concerns in Leavenworth County.
“Our Lutheran friends are focusing on Linwood. That has been awesome,” said Tapley, disaster response coordinator.
Tapley said work of cleaning up debris would likely last for months.
“Some of those trees were just cut in two,” she said. “There’s trees everywhere, tree limbs everywhere.”
Tapley praised the volunteers who helped so far in Douglas County.
“We had a couple of groups who, bless their souls, spent three days concentrating on helping homeowners pick up belongings,” Tapley said. “There’s one area where houses were pushed into the next house and pushed into the next house. There’s a debris field where peoples’ belongings were just intertwined.”
Volunteers – whether or not ERTs – are welcome in that type of work, she said. They must, however, be age 18 or older, in an agreement with emergency management officials in the county.
The tornadoes have added to a devastating spring for the Great Plains, beginning with mid-March flooding in Nebraska where cleanup work continues to be done.
A planned “Fremont blitz” for the third week of June may be put on hold while damage continues to be evaluated, she said.
Meanwhile, flooding in May in south central Kansas has added up to nearly 170 requests from homeowners for assistance.
“I have reached out to a couple of other faith-based groups to see if they can take those homes,” Tapley said. “Mucking out houses, you really need to get on them pretty quick,” and some already have developed mold, she added.
While the Great Plains has nearly 400 early response-trained team members who have been certified to do the work, Tapley said she’s only getting response from the same two-dozen volunteers.
“We need more than our regular 25 to 30 who are so faithful to respond,” Tapley said. “They’re tired. A lot of them have literally been from Nebraska flooding to Kansas flooding to tornadoes and have not had a break. I’m really concerned about them continuing to push-push-push and continuing to be the ones responding.
“I know they’re tired,” she added. “We need more ERTs to respond. I know disasters cannot be planned and I know people have a life, I understand that.” Those who are available should contact her, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There’s a lot of work left,” she said.