‘It hit and left’
30 seconds were enough to ruin 100 homes in Baxter Springs
| Val Vita reporter |
Do you live here?”
“Not anymore,” said Stan Wyczynski, looking at his destroyed house after the tornado hit Baxter Springs on Sunday, April 27.
When the sirens sounded at 5:45 p.m., he and his sister didn’t even have time to get in the basement.
“I just put my sister in the closet and got in there, too,” said Wyczynski. “All the windows blew away, as well as the entire roof. We felt the wind coming down inside the house. It only lasted 10 seconds. It hit and left.”
When the EF-2 tornado that raged for 30 seconds lifted, a scene of devastation was left in Baxter Springs, pop. 4,200, located 20 minutes from Pittsburg.
Twenty-five people were injured. More than 100 houses and 12 businesses were damaged. One person, Phyllis Overman Clark, 58, died about 20 minutes after the tornado struck her home.
Officials have not confirmed that the death was tornado related, but Barbara Circle, senior administrative assistant for the Student Government Association, who is a relative of Clark, says that she believes Clark was killed by the tornado.
Baxter Springs resident John L. Brown, 68, died in the same storm in Quapaw, Okla., earlier that day.
Brandon Schnieders didn’t get hurt, but lost his family’ home, which is now marked with a big “OK” on the walls – an indication made on several houses after authorities checked for survivors.
“We heard the sirens, and my brother and I got into the car to go to a shelter, but we had to stop because the tornado crossed and blocked the road,” said Schnieders, while showing a picture of that moment on his phone.
Along with family and volunteers, Schnieders spent all of Monday gathering the things left in the house. The work was being made very carefully, because some parts of the house were still falling.
“This is the living room,” Schnieders said, pointing at a room with no furniture, no walls and no roof anymore.
“This ‘was’ the living room,” corrects his aunt, Connie Carter, who was wearing a mask because of the dust caused by the destruction.
‘A lot of memories went down’
A baby’s car seat was among the dust of the backyard of Heather Ewen. She said she went to the basement with the rest of the family. Among them, three kids under 6 years old, when the tornado came.
“It hit less than two minutes after the sirens,” said Ewen. “We just heard a lot of glass breaking. When we came out, it was just dark.”
Ewen and her family had rented the house from Art Roberts, who was helping that Monday. Roberts said he lived in the house for 15 years, but his family has owned it since the 1940s.
“A lot of memories went down yesterday,” Roberts said.
On the other side of the street, D. Baptista’s 1920s home is the only one around that wasn’t damaged by the tornado.
“It went around us,” she said. “We were in Eureka Springs on vacation, and we came back thinking that the house was going to be destroyed like the others. But I guess we are really fortunate.”
Her next-door neighbor, Jack Speer, came back from a camping trip at Big Lake, and discovered his house was gone. But he says he is thankful; if it weren’t for the trip, he might not be alive.
“We were supposed to come back on Sunday,” Speer said. “On the last minute we decided to stay one more day. We came back Monday morning and the house was completely destroyed.”
‘We are Baxter Strong’
Baxter Springs is home to many families of Pitt State students who were affected by the tornado.
Latisha Turner, junior in creative writing, had to leave school for a few days to stay with her mom and sister, who were at the hospital in Miami, Okla., after both were injured.
“My sister is bruised and has a concussion, my mom had to go through surgery because of her shattered elbow and broken arm,” said Turner, junior in creative writing.
Amanda Kempton, junior in communication, says she and her mom were in the car halfway to the shelter when they saw the tornado coming.
“I sped all the way to the shelter and when we got there, it was about a block away,” she said. “I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I saw the tornado forming out of the sky. We thought it was coming right for us.”
Kasidi Webster, senior in elementary education, says she drove to Baxter Springs to help her family on the next day, and what she saw there was “an entire disaster.”
“News crews were everywhere, roofs off houses, and even houses lifted off the foundation and put in the middle of the road by the tornado,” Webster said. “Now the whole community is coming together. We are Baxter Strong.”
The destruction hit close to home for President Steve Scott, who grew up not far from the tornado’s path in Baxter Springs.
“It’s tough to see this happen to my hometown,” said Scott, in a press release. “I walked through those neighborhoods every day on the way to grade school. My heart goes out to everyone affected by Sunday’s storms.”