WICHITA, Kansas (AP) – A tornado that struck parts of Kansas destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and buildings, injured several people, and left more than 15,000 without power, officials said Saturday.
In addition to the tornado’s own debris, three University of Oklahoma meteorological students were killed as they returned from a storm chase in Kansas in a crash Friday evening, according to officials.
Nicholas Nair, 20, of Denton, Texas; Gavin Short, 19, of Grayslake, Illinois; Drake Brooks, 22, of Evansville, Indiana, died in the crash shortly before 11:30 p.m. Friday, according to an Oklahoma Highway Patrol report.
The three were in a vehicle that Nir was driving south on Interstate 35 when the vehicle skidded and hit an excavator-trailer in Tonkawa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City, the report said.
A statement from OU said: “The university was devastated when I learned of the tragic death of three students. Each of them was appreciated and loved in our community.”
More than 1,000 buildings were damaged when a powerful hurricane slammed into Andover Friday evening, according to authorities. In clear Saturday, emergency crews found a path of more widespread destruction than previously expected.
“We now know that the trajectory of the damage we are feeling extended approximately 3 to 4 miles (5.6 to 6.4 km) north of where we thought it ended last night,” Andover Deputy Fire Chief Mike Roosevelt said at a news briefing.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported from the cyclone itself, despite the widespread devastation. Officials said only a few injuries had been reported. And in Sedgwick County, three people were injured, including a woman who was seriously injured.
Search and rescue operations continued Saturday with more than 200 emergency responders from 30 agencies. Officials kept volunteers out of the damage until a secondary search for the wreck was conducted.
Andover Fire Chief Chad Russell earlier said some of the neighborhood’s homes were “completely destroyed”.
There are homes, Russell said, that have been completely removed from their foundations and entire neighborhoods have been wiped out.
City Hall, Andover YMCA, and Prairie Creek Elementary School were among the buildings that were badly damaged.
Field crews from the National Weather Service worked Saturday to determine the extent and strength of the hurricane, meteorologist Kevin Darmoval in the Wichita office said.
Fleur and Aldo Delgado said they were praying in the basement of their Andover home as a tornado passed over them and destroyed their home and cars.
The couple looked out the window on Friday night and saw a tornado begin to form, so they headed downstairs.
“The lights started flashing and eventually went out, and within a minute of that the whole house started shaking and the sound was so loud. We started feeling the water hitting our faces, and the dust was everywhere. It went on for a minute it felt like it was right above us,” said Aldo Delgado. .
The Wichita Eagle reports that Fleur Delgado said she heard their house disintegrating while they were praying for their safety.
“The moment I realized there was absolutely nothing we could do. I knew my husband felt it too because he was calm and comforting me, but at one point he started losing him and crying. I could hear his voice cracking as he prayed,” she said.
Once the hurricane passed, the couple managed to get out of the rubble with only the clothes on their backs. Their homes, cars and personal belongings all disappeared.
“We didn’t even have wedding rings back then,” Fleur Delgado added.
Governor Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency in the event of a disaster in the hardest-hit areas. The declaration makes state resources available to assist local jurisdictions with response and recovery efforts in affected areas statewide.
Everjee said about 15,000 customers lost power during the cyclone and that work was continuing to restore electricity. Any broken gas and water lines were shut down, and by noon there were no known active leaks.
In addition to tornadoes, significant hail has been reported in several towns across the plains. Softball volume has been monitored in Hail near Holbrook, Nebraska, and Enterprise, Kansas, according to the National Weather Service and storm watchers.