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Pawnee Rock residents take shelter as tornado hits

Victims evacuated when gas line breaks

POSTED May 18, 2017 3:06 p.m.

PAWNEE ROCK — Roads into the city of Pawnee Rock were closed through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning to all but residents and emergency responders. A tornado impacted the western corner of the city, toppling trees and damaging roofs, sending flying debris through house and car windows. A gas line was ruptured, requiring residents in that part of the city to be evacuated immediately. Throughout the city, fallen branches littered yards and the roadway.
Cathy Grover, Pawnee Rock city clerk, manned the city offices Tuesday night until midnight, keeping the building open for emergency responders. Most of the damage was on the west edge of town.

Taking cover
Konny Trinka and her daughter live at the west end of Bismark Street. They were home when they heard there was a tornado warning. They had a few minutes available to get their dogs and themselves under the stairwell, and cover themselves with a mattress. The noise was incredible, she said. When it passed, they emerged to find their vehicles had sustained extensive damage, their many trees destroyed, and extensive damage to the exterior of their home. Debris broke out windows, sending shattered glass throughout their home. They stayed overnight at her mother’s house in Larned.
They returned home Wednesday to meet with insurance adjusters and start cleaning up the tree damage. She has lived in the same house for 30 years this month, she said. Never before has she ever experienced anything like Tuesday night’s tornado.
Pawnee Rock Volunteer Fire Chief Heath Dill lives two blocks south of Trinka. His house sustained damage to the roof, siding and fence. After the tornado passed, he spent the rest of the long night evacuating residents and working with other emergency responders.
Councilwoman Deb Bader sustained damage to her house. A tree fell on part of her roof. She and family members were able to remove it that night and cover it with tarp and plywood.
“We were lucky,” she said. “We have a house at least, and we have a portion that was not hit that is livable.”

Monument sustains damage
North of the city, the tornado clipped through the park surrounding Pawnee Rock State Historic Site, laying down the vast majority of decades-old trees lining the parkway. Further north, branches could be seen lying in the field west of Pawnee Rock Cemetery, but the grounds did not appear to have sustained damage.
Aerial photographs taken Wednesday showed a portion of the roof of the gymnasium at the former Pawnee Rock High School had been peeled off. The school has since been converted to the headquarters for Praise Ranch, which has been described by founders Ted and Anita De Tello as a home for widows and special needs and orphaned children. Activity was apparent Wednesday. There was no word on the extent of other damage sustained there, and the Great Bend Tribune was unable to make contact with the De Tellos.
City workers were visiting victims Wednesday morning, taking photos and assessing damage to report to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). Then, Dill said, the focus would turn to cleanup efforts.
By Wednesday afternoon, non-profits in the county had mobilized. RSVP and Red Cross volunteers reported they would be bringing food to cleanup volunteers at Pawnee Rock and other rural sites in the county. The Golden Belt Community Foundation announced the “Golden Belt Disaster Relief Fund” was activated to accept donations to assist those impacted by Tuesday night’s tornado in Barton County, and disaster relief volunteers were being organized by Donna Zimmerman at the Barton County Courthouse. To volunteer, call 620-793-1835.

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