Archive for Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Victims of May tornado move into new home

December 23, 2003

This year, Paul and Theresa Mast are celebrating the holidays in their home in Tonganoxie.

That's not what they would have predicted a year ago.

The Masts, and their children, Amanda, 8, Michael, 5, and Carolyn 1 1/2, lost their home when a tornado struck their Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood on May 4.

The family lived in the heart of the area struck by the storm -- on north 87th Street north of Leavenworth Road.

When the storm passed, the Masts, whose house was still standing, realized how lucky they were.

"My house wasn't totally destroyed," Paul Mast said, noting that the majority of homes in his neighborhood were demolished. "Mine had some structural damage on the roof and all the windows blew out."

And, he said, the twister broke some of the home's trusses and floor joists.

Although a house inspector later determined the house, which the Mast family rented, could again be habitable, the Masts began looking for another place to live.

"We just didn't feel it was safe," said Mast, who believes the tornado had actually lifted the house off the ground.

Every fitting in the gas line was broken, he said.

"That led me to believe that the house had lifted," Mast said. "I don't see how every fitting in the house could have popped otherwise."

And, they knew, with the obvious devastation all around them, they couldn't keep on living there.

"It looked like an atom bomb went off," Mast said. "It was a very densely wooded area, and very hilly. Now as you drive over the hill moving south from our home, everything's gone. It's just torn up, most of the trees are gone and what branches weren't gone were stripped bare."

With their children in mind, the Masts decided to move to Tonganoxie, where Theresa (Altenhofen) was from.

Mast works full time as a carpenter in the Kansas City area, and operates the catering company Two Guys and a Grill. Theresa does bookwork out of their home.

"The biggest reason we left was it was a constant reminder to the children," Mast said. "The houses and trees were all gone."

And with the houses went their friends and neighbors, amazingly, none of whom were killed by the storm.

"We'd only lived there for a couple of years," Mast said. "But my children had had friends who lived down the street and suddenly they were gone."

This Christmas, in fact, members of the Mast family realize how fortunate they are to be alive.

Paul Mast recalls the tornado's devastating moments as his family huddled together on the floor. With them during those terrifying moments were his brother-in-law, Damian Altenhofen, and Damian's son, Christian.

"There were tree limbs in my living room," Mast said. "We were pretty scared. The roof was getting ready to go and I've never prayed so hard in my life."

Their own survival was in question.

"This is going to sound pretty sappy, but it was like watching the end of the Waltons, because we were all saying goodbye and I love you because we all thought this is it," Mast said.

Within less than a minute the storm passed and the stunned family absorbed what had just happened. They would later learn they had survived an F4 tornado with winds in excess of 210 mph.

"My little boy, Michael, he looked up at his mother and said, 'Mommy, I floated,'" said Mast, who was a meteorologist in the Navy. "Now did he really float -- I don't know. Could be it was the pressure in his ears, or maybe he felt the house lift -- I don't know."

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