Prayer saw victims through storm
Twister demolishes five homes in county
Andrea and Dustin House came for lunch and got a whole lot more.
The Shawnee couple, and their 18-month-old daughter, Melina, usually travel to the country home of Andrea's parents, Dottie and Kevin Horner, for Sunday dinner. The last thing they expected when they packed a diaper bag and headed for Leavenworth County was that before the day's end, they'd be praying for their lives.
About 4 p.m., a tornado plundered the rural housing development at 166th Street and Kansas Avenue where the Horners live. In less than a minute, the raging cloud of fury leveled three houses and destroyed another.
The development is about eight miles southeast of Tonganoxie.
For at least half a mile eastward, and likely farther, the debris littered lawns and fields. Pink insulation and articles of clothing hung draped from treetops like Mardi Gras beads. A farm field across the road, which was planted to corn two days earlier, suddenly resembled a city dump. A mattress, kitchen sink and a pair of work boots could be seen clearly from the road. Homes still standing, and by comparison mildly damaged, had small boards piercing roofs like arrows and their neighbors' belongings strewn across their lawns.
Homes were lost, but fortunately, lives were not.
The whooooh sound
The family saw the tornado coming.
"As I closed the basement door, I heard the whooooh sound -- it sounded like a train," said Andrea House. "We got under the stairwell and prayed like crazy."
Dustin House, who used to live in Texas, said this was the fourth tornado he had personally experienced. He rated it as his second worst. For Andrea, it was her first brush with a tornado.
The twister destroyed the home next door, but barely touched the Horners'.
"That's what happens when you pray," Dustin said.
Andrea remembered her prayers: "I just said, 'Jesus protect us, keep us in your arms.'"
Dustin said he recalled the story of Jesus calming a storm when he was in a boat with his disciples.
"I just said, 'Jesus, calm the storm like you did for your disciples,'" Dustin said.
The storm ended in half a minute, Andrea said. Their first view of the aftermath left a lasting impression.
"We saw smoke coming from our neighbors' propane tanks," Dustin said.
Dottie Horner described the next shock: "And then we saw houses missing."
Under a blanket
A few houses, or foundations, to the east, Kathleen McKinley stood at the end of her driveway with friends. Of her home that she had just finished remodeling and adding on a new addition, all that remained were the basement walls.
"I looked out the window and saw it coming," McKinley said. "I got the kids in the basement and we were huddled under a blanket. I could hear the train. The house started shaking. I really thought the house was going to fall in on us. The basement door ripped open and then it was over. It lasted all of a minute."
It's likely that her 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, will long remember May 4, 2003.
"It was really pretty loud," Taylor said. "All of a sudden the windows started rattling and it got really loud and then it just stopped. That was the worst storm I've ever been in."
On the run
Even emergency workers get caught up in storms sometimes.
Dan Tallman, chief of Sherman Township Fire Department, was in his truck with Kim Miller, who also is a firefighter.
He was near 198th Street and Woodend Road when he saw the vortex forming about 400 to 500 feet above the ground.
He headed down Cantrell. The tornado followed.
Miller described the scene, as well as their predicament. The storm was on their tail and they had no place to go.
"The clouds were turning behind us in the tornado, boards were flying," Miller said. "We outran it to try to get out of its way."
The home of Paula and Kevin Ellis was still standing. But the house was heavily damaged when tornado debris blistered the exterior. The storm ripped out table-sized chunks of the home's siding. The house sustained broken windows and holes in the roof.
Samantha Ellis, 16, was terrified when she took shelter in the basement, but her fear was not so much for herself, as for her sister.
"I didn't really hear a lot, because I was screaming because my sister was out on the road with a bunch of friends," Samantha said. "I was scared."
With her family, she rode out the storm covered by pillows in the basement and clutching her dog, Shady.
Before she knew it, the storm had passed.
"It only lasted a couple minutes at the most," Samantha said.
'God protected us'
Basel Brown said he and his wife didn't have time to get to the basement. By the time the siren sounded, the storm was nearly upon them, he said. But they, and even their dog, later safely emerged from a house that was bruised but not so badly broken.
For the Browns, who have lived in the neighborhood of 166th Street and Kansas Avenue since 1990, this was their first tornado.
"God protected us," Brown said. "I didn't have time to pray during the storm, but a little bit before that I prayed that we wouldn't have a hail storm."