The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 27, 2014

SLIDE SHOW: Tornado kills one, injures dozens in two area towns

A rope-like tornado tore across Quapaw, Okla., and then slammed into Baxter Springs, Kan., killing one person and injuring dozens of others late Sunday afternoon.

The tornado leveled the Quapaw fire station and hit a tire storage building across the street. The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said one person was killed in Quapaw.

Six people from Quapaw were taken to Integris Baptist Regional Health Center in Miami, Okla., for treatment of injuries, a hospital spokeswoman said. Four of those people were in good condition, two in fair condition. Two people were treated for minor injuries at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, but it was not clear whether they were from Quapaw or Baxter Springs.

Emergency rescue vehicles and canine search teams from across the Tri-State Area flooded into Quapaw and Baxter Springs to help search for the injured. Roadblocks were set up on the outskirts of both towns to prevent sightseers from entering the towns.

Quapaw police Chief Gary Graham said the fatality in Quapaw was not a resident of the town and that the body was found in a car.

“We had very little warning,” he said. “The tornado formed right over town. It’s hard to inform people when we have no warning.”

Bill Kapler, who lives at 1716 Park Ave. in Baxter Springs, said he was keeping an eye on the weather Sunday, but he was still surprised when the tornado hit.

“I came out on the front porch and didn’t see anything,” he said. “I came back inside and was walking down the hallway when it hit. I pushed my wife down to the floor and got on top of her.

“It didn’t last very long. We got up, and it was ‘Oh my gosh.’ We had planned to retire in this house.”

When they emerged from their home, the roof had been blown off and both of their vehicles had been destroyed. Kapler and his wife, Dorothy, suffered bruises and cuts from flying debris, but did not seek immediate medical attention.

Authorities said 60 to 70 houses and 20 to 25 businesses in Baxter Springs were either damaged or destroyed by the tornado.

The tornado crossed Military Avenue between 15th and 18th streets.

Shawn Martin, a Baxter Springs resident, said he heard the tornado coming before he saw it.

“It was like a constant thunder,” he said. “You could see it hit the buildings, and then you saw the debris flying through the air.”

Terry Joe Blevins, who lives in the north part of Baxter Springs, walked south to the town’s midsection to check on family and friends. “The sirens did go off,” he said.

The sirens were not sounded in Quapaw, a Police Department official said Sunday night.

John Sparkman, of Miami, Okla., said he followed the storm and saw the damage it caused in both Quapaw and Baxter Springs.

“I went into Baxter (Springs) from the south,” he said. “The majority of the damage was north of the Pizza Hut on Military Avenue, pretty much in the center of town. Then it tracked to the northeast, toward Riverton. There was a lot of roof damage and downed trees.”

Ron Steele, a Riverton, Kan., resident who is a former City Council member in Baxter Springs, was standing outside at a birthday cookout Sunday when he saw the tornado that hopscotched through the center of Baxter Springs form.

“We saw it form at the beginning,” he said. “You could see it definitely forming up in the clouds, and see it twist and twist and twist, and it came down about 100 yards west of where the new ball fields are, hit some storage buildings by the old Yellow Freight building. You could see the funnel and debris blowing. That’s when it headed on north, down Park Avenue and Military Avenue and along East Avenue from 13th and 14th.

“East Avenue between 19th and 20th is pretty tore up. What used to be the bowling alley is gone. There is some damage to Marvin’s IGA. On 14th Street from Military to Fairview, there’s limbs down and a lot of damaged houses in that area. Then it went across 12th Street and hit what used to be Abbott Funeral Home, then moved east to hit the Kiwanis Park area at Spring River.”

The tornado headed toward the Riverton baseball fields, “coming right toward a house there, and it lifted and went back up,” Steele said.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback plans to visit Baxter Springs to show his support to residents there, but he had not decided as of Sunday night when he will make the trip, according to state Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg.

“They are talking about him coming tomorrow (today), and also (U.S. Rep.) Lynn Jenkins,” LaTurner said. “But they’re coordinating with the folks on the ground about the time, because they don’t want to be a hindrance.”

He said the governor already has signed a proclamation to ensure that Baxter Springs residents will get the needed emergency services from the state.

“I hope everyone will pray for the people of Baxter Springs,” LaTurner said. “There’s a lot of hurting there, now.”

Mike Griffin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Springfield, said: “We are pretty confident that this is the same tornado that struck both Quapaw and Baxter Springs. We’ll have a team in that area tomorrow (today) to verify whether this was a single-track tornado.” Baxter Springs is about six miles northeast of Quapaw.

Griffin said the team also will check an area near Seneca and Neosho where radar indicated a tornado might have formed Sunday afternoon. A dispatcher with the Newton County Sheriff’s Department said no damage reports from that area had been logged.

Griffin said another tornado touched down near Fort Scott, Kan., toppling a grain elevator before continuing on a northeast track into Bates County, Mo.

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