A "large and extremely dangerous" tornado carved a path of destruction through parts of northeastern Kansas on Tuesday night, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a "tornado emergency" for several counties and the heavily populated Kansas City metropolitan area.
No fatalities have been reported, but at least 12 people suffered storm-related injuries and more than 13,000 were left without power, according to the Kansas City Star. While the full extent of the damage remains unclear, photos and videos from affected areas show what has been described as "catastrophic" scenes. The tornado is the latest product of a pattern of severe weather that has ravaged the central United States in recent days, devastating parts of Oklahoma, Ohio and Missouri.
On Tuesday evening, the weather service warned that storms, which could possibly produce "a few tornadoes," hail and winds greater than 60 mph, were developing near the Topeka, Kan., area. Kansas is experiencing one of its wettest months in history and flooding has led to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly declaring a state of disaster in 49 of 105 counties, the Wichita Eagle reported.
Shortly after 6 p.m. local time, the weather service confirmed that a tornado had touched down southwest of Lawrence, Kansas, and was moving toward Kansas City, Kansas. It was expected to pass near the popular Legends Outlets Kansas City shopping area near the state border, located close to Kansas Speedway. Later Tuesday night, the weather service also placed counties in western Missouri under a tornado warning after at least one tornado was reported on the ground.
A powerful tornado ripped through Kansas on May 28, resulting in multiple injuries and leaving behind a path of destruction in its wake. Video: The Washington Post
"This is a DANGEROUS situation!" the weather service tweeted, warning people that the Kansas tornado "will be rain-wrapped so it will be hard to see."
Less than 30 minutes after the initial alert, the tornado warning in effect was upgraded to an "emergency." A "damaging tornado" and possible "golf ball sized" hail was reported. The weather service described the situation as "life threatening," and estimated that more than 200,000 people, 84 schools and a hospital could be impacted by the tornado.
Local media reported that the weather service instructed meteorologists to "Use the strongest language you have ever used to get people out of the way of this storm."
There were multiple reports of debris "falling from the sky" as the tornado continued to track toward more densely populated areas, and the weather service urgently advised people to take shelter.
Kansas City International Airport, located less than 30 miles from the speedway, tweeted around 7 p.m. local time that travelers were being taken to parking garage tunnels to wait out the severe weather. Even after the "all clear" was given, as of 9 p.m., flights were still delayed due to storm debris in the airfield, the airport said. Though the airport announced an "optimistic reopening" was expected at 10:30 p.m., its website showed that a flight scheduled to depart late Tuesday was canceled.
On Facebook, the speedway wrote that the tornado "missed the track, but it has impacted the communities near us."
One such community was Linwood, Kansas, a small city located less than 40 minutes southwest of Kansas City.
Brian Hahn, a resident of Linwood, told KMBC that he and his family heeded the warnings, and hunkered in their basement under a mattress as the tornado approached. Hahn said he heard the telltale rumble, followed by a change in the air pressure.
"The next thing I know, I could hear it was over us," he said. "I saw my bedroom just leave, it was gone. We were underneath the one part of the house that didn't get taken."
In images of the tornado's aftermath, the ground was covered in piles of rubble, felled trees and power poles, and overturned cars.
When Hahn emerged, the sight that greeted him was equally grim. Beyond the destruction to his home, he told KMBC that two silos and his livestock were nowhere to be found.
"I feel lucky I'm alive," he said.
As Mark Duffin stood outside the remnants of his home near Linwood, he told the Star he was "overwhelmed," but grateful his family and pets survived.
"I had a plan for years, we've lived here a long time," Duffin said. "Followed the plan and . . . made it out alive."
About a half-hour after the tornado tore through the Linwood area, dozens of first responders were continuing to arrive on scene with chain saws, ATVs and other rescue equipment. Rescue and recovery missions are expected to continue well into the night, with a number of homes in northern Linwood yet to be searched due to inaccessibility.
Over in Douglas County, which includes Lawrence, search-and-rescue efforts were also still ongoing, despite being slowed by darkness and thunderstorms, Bob Newton, a spokesman with the county's emergency management service, told The Post late Tuesday.
"Even though it didn't go through any major city in our county, . . . there were suburban neighborhoods just outside of Lawrence that were hit," Newton said, adding that the damages to homes were "significant."
Lawrence Memorial Hospital received 12 people with injuries from the tornado, hospital spokeswoman Janice Early told the Star. There were no reports of fatalities, Early said.
Newton told The Post that the severity of damages and injuries likely won't be known until morning.
"The light of day will bring clarity," he said.
Less than an hour after the weather service reported that the tornado had lifted Tuesday night, Kelly, the Kansas governor, announced that President Donald Trump had granted her request for an emergency federal disaster declaration. The assistance would go to 18 counties in the state affected by severe weather, heavy rains and flooding, a news release said.
"I'm pleased the president granted these counties emergency support," Kelly said in the release. "Sadly, with additional devastating storms hitting several communities tonight, this may only be the beginning of the support Kansas needs."
The Washington Post