BARTON COUNTY — When her husband didn’t answer his cell phone on Tuesday evening, Teresa Cass became worried and hurried home as soon as she could from her job in Great Bend. Little did she know that her husband, Chuck, was hunkered down between two refrigerators while taking a direct hit from a tornado and unable to answer his phone.
"It scares me how close he came to being sucked up," she said.
The renovated barn housed the family game room, Jacuzzi and most importantly on Tuesday, two refrigerators. Chuck had heard on the radio that evening that a storm was coming.
Hoping to save his vehicles from hail damage, he moved them into the barn and gathered up the cats.
Sitting there watching the storm, he knew a serious problem was developing when the electricity went off. Strangely, the wind was coming from the south and then started coming from the west, increasing in velocity. The rain also started coming in all directions.
"It was almost like setting off a bomb," he described the noise he heard. He jumped up to go into the house, but the door slammed shut, and the door on the other side of the barn also slammed shut.
Chuck raced over to the refrigerators and crouched between them. A mere 15 seconds later, the noise level dropped, and Chuck looked up and saw sky where his barn used to be. He watched the tornado travel northwest, wrapped in rain.
Those refrigerators were 150 feet away in what remained of the shelter belt.
"Figure that one out," Chuck said, amazed that he is still alive. "I’m sore. It feels like I got in a fight with Mike Tyson." He has one scratch on his nose.
"How did everything else disappear, and I stand up?" he asked.
He walked over to the house, grabbed some boots and walked over to the neighbors to call his wife. The cars are totaled, the barn is in ruins, and the house is salvageable, but has extensive damage to the roof, siding and rain-soaked drywall.
He did find his cell phone, and it still works, although it is damaged.
The family is making plans to rebuild what took years to finish, and they are supported by the generosity of friends and even strangers. "It’s very heartening that total strangers try to help," Chuck said. "People are great."
Teresa is thankful that her husband survived.
According to the National Weather Service in Wichita, three tornadoes touched down in Barton County that evening along with sporadic large hail. The region saw wind speeds of 60-80 miles per hour which resulted in downed power lines in various areas in the county.
The NWS is still conducting research into the severity of the tornadoes and will not have final reports until later today.
During the series of severe thunderstorms that raced through Barton County, the tornado that wrecked the Cass property touched down east, northeast of Ellinwood, cutting a path to the northwest, Barton County Sheriff Greg Armstrong said.
Armstrong said that it is very unusual for a tornado to travel to the northwest. Tornadoes usually travel to the northeast.
"We are still assessing damage," said Armstrong. It will be three days to a week before the damaged is completely assessed in the county.
Even then, "Some people won’t report it," he said. They will go directly to their insurance company.