Archive for Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Tonganoxie recovering

May 17, 2000

After the shock of Thursday night's tornado, Tonganoxie residents and volunteers from across the region swung into action.

The buzz of chainsaws and wood chippers could be heard throughout the city. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers pitched in. Utility workers including KPL, Southwestern Bell and Sunflower Cablevision worked to restore service.

Police and sheriff's officers from neighboring cities and counties and the Kansas National Guard poured into Tonganoxie to help this community of 3,600 start the rebuilding process.

Thursday night's storm caused at least $2.5 million in damage, according to county officials. At Tonganoxie Elementary School, about $300,000 worth of damage occurred when part of the roof peeled off. Students returned on Monday to classes, some of the children moved into the school library or other special rooms.

At the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds, damage was estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000.

Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County emergency management coordinator, said that 58 homes in rural areas of the county were damaged: Four were destroyed, seven suffered heavy damage, and 47 others received minor damage.

In Tonganoxie, Mayor John Franiuk said two nonresidential properties the Assembly of God Church and a storage building at the lumberyard as well as three homes were destroyed. A total of five homes and three businesses Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse, Pelzl's True Value and Shilling Electric suffered major damage.

Another 104 homes and 14 businesses received minimal damage, Franiuk said.

A 4-year-old Lawrence girl was killed when a porch at Sixth and Bury streets collapsed on her Friday morning as relatives worked to clear tree limbs from the home.

The bulk of the property damage in the Tonganoxie area was concentrated in western Tonganoxie and an area west of town, including Hubbel Hill Cemetery.

In addition, several downtown businesses received extensive damage to roofs, and homes in the area of Sixth and Pleasant streets also received damage.

In other areas of the city, tree limbs were downed by the storm, some of them landing on homes or on vehicles.

Following are additional details about the rebuilding process in the city.

Clean up
Extra trucks and extended hours at the quarry should enable city crews and local residents to dispose of most the storm debris by the end of the week. But Saturday is the final day the quarry will be open to be used as a dumpsite.

"It seems like we're making a lot of headway," said Chris Eppley, Tonganoxie city administrator.

He said the county commission had agreed to provided additional services including access to quarry, county crews and equipment

Magaha said the quarry would be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The quarry will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Trash should be sorted before it is picked up or delivered to the quarry. The six groups are:

Brush and limbs.

Wood products, such as lumber.

Metal, such as barn or roof flashings.

Other metal, such as refrigerators, washing machines or stoves.

Household chemicals.

Roofing materials.

Mayor John Franiuk said that Tuesday trash days will proceed as usual. Tonganoxie residents should call city hall if they have special needs.

He said the city probably would get some extra dumpsters the week before Tonganoxie Days on June 9 and 10.

"I think we'll be cleaned up by then," he said.

No disaster money
The damage from Thursday's storm was not great enough to warrant federal disaster relief funds.

Joy Moser, public affairs officer for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said there wasn't enough uninsured damage to activate federal assistance.

"Most of this is insured," she said.

Magaha seconded that opinion.

"There has to be 25 uninsured persons," he said.

He estimated that only three or four people were without insurance.

Damage estimates
Insurance adjusters were examining torn shingles, mangled gutters and cars crushed by tree limbs as the week began.

Total damage estimates for the storm vary, but are expected to be millions of dollars.

Magaha estimated that the tornado and storm did about $2.5 million of damage.

Diane Bretthauer of the Lloyd Mills Agency had 15 adjusters from SafeCo, the insurance company she represents, working on claims during the weekend.

She had received 88 claims Saturday night and had another 20 claims Monday morning.

She insures Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse and the school district and expected to have claims of more than $1 million for her agency.

State officials warn local residents to avoid hasty settlements with insurance companies and not to hire fly-by-night companies to repair storm damage.

Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas commissioner of insurance, said representatives of her department will be at city hall Thursday and Friday to answer questions. They are trained to evaluate policies, review claims and help residents work with the insurance companies to get a fair settlement.

People can also call the department at (800) 432-2484.

As people clean up from the storm, Sebelius offers the following advice:

Report damage to insurers as soon as possible.

Photograph and videotape damage.

Make temporary repairs, but don't make permanent repairs until adjusters have processed the claim.

Take time to fully survey the damage and include all damaged items in a claim. Once it is settled, consumers can't go back and add items they later remember as being lost.

She said sometimes the clean up and repair process can be confusing.

She recommends that people carefully check the background of any repair company. She also discourages people from using public adjusters who agree to help settle a claim for a portion of the claim. The Kansas Insurance Department provides that service for free.

"They already work for the people of Tonganoxie," Sebelius said.

One other area sometimes upsets people in the wake of the storm. The agent who originally sold the policy is not the one who makes the decision. Adjusters sent in by the insurance company evaluate the damage.

"The guy you've dealt with all of your life is not the guy who settles the claim," Sebelius said.

Sebelius said people who hadn't seen an adjuster yet should call her office to talk to a representative.

Even those not affected by the storm can use it as a reminder to revisit insurance policies and inventory their homes.

"This may not be the last storm you're going to see in Tonganoxie," Sebelius said.

The city of Tonganoxie is requesting that all residents apply for building permits before making any storm-related repairs to their property.

The permits are free and will be used to track the damage in the city as well as protect against unscrupulous contractors.

"We're trying to make sure people don't get duped or ripped off during this process," the mayor said.

The city recommends that all repairs be covered by a contract. The city's codes inspector will inspect all work.

Franiuk said repairs that include electrical work will be required to meet city code.

While buildings were inspected Friday in the wake of the tornado, residents should check rafters and joists for cracks. Exterior siding and foundations also should be checked for cracks. Doors and windows that formerly opened easily but now stick or are jammed can be signs of settling caused by storm damage.

City hall can provide inspections for people who are unsure whether they have additional storm damage.

Despite the devastation of the storm, major utilities were working again by Friday evening.

Hardest hit was Kansas Power and Light.

Cynthia McCarvel, a KPL spokesperson said about 1,800 people lost electrical power as a result of the storm. An additional 25 to 30 crews were sent to Tonganoxie to fix downed lines and poles.

By Friday morning, only about 300 people were without power. The company had restored power to everyone by 7:45 p.m. Friday.

McCarvel said KPL estimated its storm damages at about $225,000.

Patrick Knorr, general manager for Sunflower Cablevision, estimated that about 40 percent of Tonganoxie had some cable service disruption.

The company sent repair crews Friday.

"We sent the majority of our staff over," Knorr said.

He said service was restored to all customers by Sunday evening.

Southwestern Bell was the least affected by the storm because most of its lines are buried.

Ellen Pantaenius, a spokesperson for the company, said technicians were on standby all night after the storm, but only a few aerial lines were damaged.

Take me to the fair
The Leavenworth County Fair will not be stopped by the tornado, which destroyed several buildings and damaged most others at the fairgrounds in west Tonganoxie.

"We're going as scheduled," said David Todd, president of the fair board. "We're tougher than that. It may be a little different. One way or the other, we're going as scheduled."

The fair is set for Aug. 8 through 12.

Although Todd has not received word on the exact dollar amount of damage suffered at the fairgrounds, he estimated it would be at least $300,000.

"Every single one of the buildings is damaged in some way or another," he said. "Obviously, the ones that are a total loss are the sheep barn, the west edge of the administration building, where the boats were stored, the rabbit barn and the soil conservation building. The two food stands that were obliterated didn't belong to the fair board. The Methodist food stand and the VFW own them, and it totally wiped them out."

On Saturday about 75 volunteers brought equipment to help clean up the twisted metal, insulation, the roofs and shingles that were scatted around the fairgrounds. Pieces of fairground buildings were found blocks away.

"I got on the phone Friday afternoon and I called about four key people," Todd said. "We ended up with five skid loaders, a track loader and a track hoe, and a bout 75 people. I was just amazed that we were able to virtually clean up all of the debris. There will be more when we tear the buildings down.

"It's true of all of these small communities: When something like this happens, people pull together to get things squared away."

For now, Todd is worried about electrical power to the fairgrounds.

"Virtually all of the electrical infrastructure has been destroyed," he said. "I'm going to have to call KPL and see what kind of support we can get out of them to put all of the wiring back to the buildings. Some of the buildings will be knocked down once we get the OK from the insurance adjuster."

For now, the fair board is accepting reservation from commercial vendors at the fair without knowing whether there will be room for them at the event.

"It's more important that we get the exhibits for the kids in than the vendors," he said. "We're telling everybody that we're going to have to wait a few weeks before we can say what's happening. We will persevere, even if it means we have to throw a tent up here or there."

Looking for space
Tonganoxie High School's summer freestyle wrestling program is in peril because students usually practice in a building at the fairgrounds.

"It's inoperable now because of damage, mainly to the back part of the building," said wrestling coach Bill DeWitt. "Our equipment wasn't ruined. We're going to try to coordinate with the high school and junior high school to try to find a night or two that we can get in there and work. Those things happen. It's not a life loss."

Freestyle wrestlers who competed last Saturday did well, DeWitt said.

"This is our first year with that freestyle club," DeWitt said. "They're having a lot of fun, and that's what's key."

Results from the Blue Valley North tournament last Friday:

Mike Andrews, a junior wrestling at 155 pounds; first in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle.

Josh Ferris, a sophomore wrestling at 115 pounds, third in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle.

Freshman Bruce Walker, wrestling at 110 pounds, and Chuck Riddle, another freshman wrestling at 180 pounds, also participated.

In the movies
Just west of the fairgrounds, Chris Folsom recently had remodeled his two-story frame home, which sits on an acre along Kansas Highway 16. When the storm stuck, he ran for his house. He saw his screen door fly off its hinges and flip around the corner of the house.

Folsom, 39, ran for the bedroom closet, where he felt his house shake as the storm sucked out his living room windows and pulled at its wood frame.

"It's just like it sounds in the movies," Folsom said Sunday, as he loaded more of his belongings into his truck. "I heard the chimney crash. I thought it was falling down on me.

"We did a lot of work to this house, a lot of work. We remodeled the whole thing."

The home is a total loss, a crack running where the first and second floors join.

"That crack gets bigger every day," Folsom said.

Good house cheap
On the east side of the fairgrounds, Jess Green spent part of Sunday spraying the mud off the siding on the front of his house. He was anticipating the arrival of his insurance agent on Monday.

"You want to buy a good house cheap?" he asked as he walked around the corner.

He celebrated his 73rd birthday Saturday by cleaning debris and cutting down trees in his yard next to the fairgrounds along Kansas Highway 16.

His wife, Patricia, commented on the confusion the storm caused. They weathered the tornado in their basement, listening to objects striking the house.

When they emerged, two trees had blown over, including one that struck the fence in their back yard. The south wall of the garage blew into their yard, but neither vehicle parked in it sustained major damage.

The volunteers, many of whom the Greens had never met before, swarmed over the yard, helping clean up.

Hubbel Hill Cemetery
On up Hubbel Hill at the cemetery, cleanup crews dragged downed cedar limbs to piles along the lane that winds along the south side of the graveyard.

Lloyd DeHoff, a member of the cemetery board, surveyed the damage as volunteers drug limbs from among the tombstones Sunday afternoon.

He said a complete count of the damaged and knocked over headstones hadn't been made, but more than 50 were blown or knocked off their bases in the newer area of the cemetery.

He said the board's goal would be to have the cemetery in good shape for Memorial Day weekend. He wasn't sure that the stones would all be reset by then, but he was confident the clean up would be done.

A number of headstones have been re-set, but cemetery board members cautioned that many stones are not secure and could pose a potential hazard.

In addition, they said that many homeowners policies would cover the cost of repairing damage to headstones in the cemetery.

Jo Ann Brown, another member of the cemetery board, worked with volunteers cleaning Sunday. She had the same goal in mind.

"If we get it done, then it will be beautiful for Memorial Day," Brown said.

Greg and Dee Becker had planned to plant some flowers next to the graves of some of Greg's relatives. Sunday they checked the tombstones, which were unharmed and planted irises and mums.

"There are so many tombstones damaged," said Connie Putthoff, who worked at the cemetery on Saturday and Sunday. "It's heartbreaking."

A variety of volunteers, both with organizations and on their own, helped with the clean up during the weekend.

Elaine Medlock, captain of the Salvation Army in Leavenworth, said the Leavenworth County sheriff called Thursday night with news of the storm and a request for food.

By midnight, the Salvation Army had set up a canteen in Tonganoxie. Volunteers fed workers Friday, Saturday and Sunday and put in more than 150 hours of work.

The Salvation Army, 600 Walnut, Leavenworth, can provide services to people who lost property in the storm. Call (913) 682-6523 for more information.

Rev. Rick Lamb of the West Haven Baptist Church said 40 to 50 people spent the night at his church the night of the storm.

The Disaster Relief Unit for the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists also served meals on Friday and Saturday in conjunction with the Red Cross.

Lamb estimated that the group fed 250 people Friday and 450 people at lunch and dinner Saturday.

"They work with the Red Cross all the time," Lamb said.

Charlie Conrad, Tonganoxie fire chief, said the newly formed Tonganoxie Fire Auxiliary group had assisted the Red Cross in providing meals for volunteers.

About 12 people work with the group that was formed 90 days ago.

Prisoners from the Lansing Correctional Facility continued to help with the clean up this week.

Prison official Michael David called the city of Tonganoxie Friday morning to see if his volunteer crews could help.

He sent 37 low-risk, minimum-security inmates and five supervisors on Friday. A crew returned on Saturday.

"We have a variety of what we call community service crews," he said.

They work on projects around the county and will be available as long as the city needs them, David said.

"Those guys do a great job," said Franiuk.

Franiuk complimented the volunteer spirit that filled the town after the storm. Volunteers showed up with water and dropped it off in town, cut trees, hauled trash and helped in other ways.

"I don't know their names. I don't know who they are," Franiuk said.

"I'm so proud of this community and all our neighbors who've come out to help us," Franiuk said.

Fire Department
The Tonganoxie Fire Department responded to a variety of calls as a result of the storm.

Conrad said the group responded to a structure fire on Friday at 512 Shawnee that was started by a candle. The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damage.

The department also responded to gas leaks including a broken meter on Monday afternoon.

The storm caused some damage when a tree limb fell on the passenger door of the ladder truck while it was out in the storm.

Visiting dignitaries
Various politicians stopped in Tonganoxie to survey the damage and offer assistance.

Congressman Jim Ryun stopped in Tonganoxie on Friday and visited the damaged grade school.

Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius was in town Monday, touring the fairgrounds and residential areas with Franiuk.

Franiuk said county commissioners, Rep. Marti Crow, Rep. Candy Ruff and Sen. Donald Biggs had also stopped by. Franiuk had been in frequent phone contact with Rep. Kenny Wilk.

The city of Tonganoxie will see what effect storm cleanup has had on the budget in coming weeks.

Damage to city property was minimal. Several buildings had minor roof damage, a fire truck was damaged by a tree limb and various equipment had minor breaks such as flat tires during clean up.

But city workers have been pouring in overtime hours.

Franiuk said most of the city workers had worked 12 hours a day through the weekend.

Eppley said city employees were working hard.

"They're doing their best and working very long hours," Eppley said.

Eppley said the cost to the city wouldn't be known for a couple of weeks.

"We run on a very tight budget to begin with," he said.

The outpouring of help including volunteers and trucks from surrounding communities helped the city keep clean up costs low, he said.

Tonganoxie Days
Connie Torneden, an organizer of Tonganoxie Days, scheduled for June 9 and 10, said the festival will go on. Most of the festival is centered on downtown's Fourth Street, which currently is under construction.

"They're telling me it will be finished in time," she said. "I'm not going to give up yet. We still have 3 1/2 weeks, and we can do lots in 3 1/2 weeks. As far as I know, we're still going to do it.

"People are going to need something after all of this hard work, a day to enjoy."

Relay for Life
Relay for Life, a 12-hour benefit for the American Cancer Society, originally was set to start at 6 p.m. Friday. However, it's been rescheduled for June 16 and 17 at VFW Park.

"We're very thankful that this storm didn't happen Friday night, 24 hours later," said Jeri Cooper, one of the organizers. "It would have been more of a disaster."

At least one local resident Kent Weatherby has maintained his sense of humor during the storm's aftermath.

"Is it true that Relay for Life has been postponed and will be rescheduled as Run for Cover?" he asked.

SORT recycling
A SORT recycling last Saturday was cancelled. Kim Kolman, organizer of the local event, said she's hopeful that the next session on May 27 will be held.

"If the fairgrounds happens to not want us out there, we will postpone until the last weekend in June," Kolman said.

Special edition sells out
The Mirror published a special edition on Saturday documenting the devastation of Thursday's storm. All 4,000 copies had been distributed by early afternoon on Monday.

Inspection signs
Saturday and Sunday, signs of the building inspectors were prominently displayed in the front windows or taped to the front wall of buildings on the west side of Tonganoxie.

Orange signs said, "Limited Entry. Enter at your own risk! Do not occupy!"

Yellow signs said, "Habitable. Repairs are required."

Green signs said, "Inspected. Safe for occupancy."

Where's Toto?
Carol McDaniel's lost her little dog, Toto.

Toto doesn't look much like Dorothy's Toto in "The Wizard of Oz."

"She's a dog that is a very golden color, and she has a white smile," McDaniel said. "Down her tail, on the top side, she has a little bit of black. She's very fluffy. She looks like a big, big fox."

McDaniel last saw the spayed female at her home at 214 W. Third immediately after the storm.

"I couldn't do much with her because there were too many trees down," McDaniel said. "Needless to say, I couldn't let go of my kids because they wouldn't let me."

McDaniel's neighborhood was hard-hit by the storm, and she was able to find only one of her dogs, Madison.

"We're all very worried about Toto," she said. "She's a very nice-looking dog. She would be more apt to run from you than she would be to growl at you."

Caroline Trowbridge is editor and publisher of The Mirror. Matthew Friedrichs is a reporter for The Mirror.

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