One person was killed in a Thursday afternoon storm that swept across a northwestern Kansas
Trego County Emergency Management Director Kathleen Fabrizius confirms that a woman died in a vehicle collision that occurred on Interstate 70, where softball-sized hail caused widespread damage to vehicles, homes and businesses in and around the town of WaKeeney.
The Kansas Highway Patrol identifies the victim as 56-year-old Gail L. Moller, of Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Moller was the driver of a 2008 Suzuki SX4 involved in a three-vehicle crash that happened on westbound I-70, just west of U.S. Highway 283.
No one else was injured or killed in that crash.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Hileman said via Twitter a semi was blown over on I-70 and thick fog that blanketed the area caused several additional vehicle accidents.
Ted Graybeal, a truck driver from Topeka who passed through the area about an hour after the storm hit, says I-70 was lined with vehicles that were forced to pull over due to storm damage.
“I saw at least 30 cars with their windshields crashed in,” said Graybeal. “Some looked like a body went through the windshield.”
The storm left WaKeeney and surrounding areas without electricity after what Hileman reported as a possible tornado that hit ground between I-70 and Cedar Bluff Lake leveled power lines and trees.
Fabrizius says emergency officials are still working to assess the damages.
“Windows, roofs and siding all over town are destroyed,” said Fabrizius. “Vehicles look like someone took a ball-peen hammer them and most are pretty much totaled. There’s a big swath across the county of crops that are completely leveled. A lot of cattle are also suffering from the hail, but I haven’t heard of any livestock deaths yet.”
The Trego County Courthouse, a nursing home and the WaKeeney Family Care Center were all closed due to storm damage. Patients at the hospital were moved to the emergency room during the storm.
Fabrizius says at least 15 people were treated by EMS for injuries sustained during the storm. She says most were minor injuries, but at least one person suffered broken bones.
The three-person Trego County Commission on Thursday evening signed a declaration of disaster for the county, which has been sent to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management for review.
Fabrizius says, at this point, they have not requested any direct assistance from the state.
“Right now, it’s all volunteers who are helping put it all back together,” said Fabrizius. “There are a lot of roofing companies and construction companies coming to town to help with restoring roofs and siding.”
Fabrizius says the assessment and recovery efforts are still in the beginning stages, and most of the county’s efforts are being focused on restoring power to the storm-shaken community.
“The other thing is just to get the community cleaned up,” said Fabrizius. “There are a lot of limbs down all over town; yards and parks are damaged, that type of thing. “It’s just going to take some time to get everything put back.”
Photo credit: Lindsay Randall