Linwood area tries to rebound from massive tornado

A destroyed commercial greenhouse is seen during an aerial tour by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly Thursday after an EF-4 tornado tore through the countryside May 28 near Linwood. Enlarge photo

June 5, 2019

— Watching traffic pass by his decimated home from his insulation-coated chair, Linwood resident Tim Bunrein became emotional while reflecting on last week’s tornado.

“I’m lucky,” Bunrein said. “This stuff, we can fix it.”

A mile-wide tornado, which originally touched down in southwestern Douglas County, destroyed almost 20 homes in Linwood and Leavenworth county the evening of May 28, according to Leavenworth County Emergency Management. Only three minor injuries were reported.

Bunrein was in his basement with his wife and dog when the tornado swept over their home.

“It was like getting hit by a freight train,” Bunrein said. “I thought I had a pretty sturdy house … I could feel it coming apart.”

Bunrein said he had no idea how long it would take for the community to rebuild.

“That’s the question of the day: What can we do?’” Bunrein said. “When you have something like this, you don’t even know where to start.”

The EF-4 tornado peaked at 170 mph winds and a width of up to 1 mile, according to the National Weather Service.

The tornado brought down over 300 poles and power lines around Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. It left Linwood-area residents without power before Westar Energy could restore power later last week.

The tornado ripped apart a 10-acre wholesale greenhouse belonging to Free State Growers. Although the facility has a staff of 40 employees, only one was present when the tornado arrived, according to Free State Growers president Mark Illausky. The employee took shelter outside next to a small orange tractor while the winds tore into the facility and overturned box trucks, Illausky said. He was unharmed.

While Illausky described the facility as decimated, he said the company plans on starting to rebuild Thursday.

Bunrein said he had received an outpouring of support from the Linwood community and passersby. The help started as soon as Bunrein emerged from his basement to survey the damage in the rain. A stranger offered him their coat.

“A guy pulls up my driveway, gets out (and asks) ‘You got a coat?’” Bunrein said. “I didn’t even know where my coat was.”

Since the night of the tornado, Bunrein said they’ve received food and help piling up debris from first responders, businesses and other impacted residents. Bunrein said he was fortunate to have all of his family and friends helping him since he still feels devastated.

“I don’t even know where I’m at half the time,” Bunrein said. “You work all of your life and it’s gone in five minutes.”

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