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Tornadoes and hail batter county

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Staff writers

Amy Makovec stood in the driveway at her rural Lost Springs home Sunday surveying the damage and debris caused by tornado Saturday.

“It could’ve been worse, I guess,” Makovec sighed. “You just never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Rapidly-moving storm cells spawned tornadoes near Goessel and west of Hillsboro along K-15. One north of Marion Reservoir passed south of Pilsen before turning toward Lost Springs, causing extensive damage at three homes, two of them on Wagonwheel Road east of Lost Springs.

The first official sighting of the funnel that hit the Lost Springs homes was one mile north of Marion Reservoir at 8:41 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Gary Evans saw the approaching tornado from his home at 2413 Old Mill Road, near the reservoir.

“I watched it go right over the top of Hillsboro standing on the front porch,” Evans said.

“Pretty soon it dipped down, and it was getting within about a mile. I thought I’d better get to the basement,” Evans said.

While the storm was nearby, the effects of it were limited, Evans said.

“We got nothing. No hail, no strong winds, just a nice breeze,” Evans said.

Two reports at 9 p.m. placed the tornado north of Lincolnville. Darren Makovec was on his porch listening to a weather radio as the tornado approached.

“A couple of us guys were out there listening, and you could hear it coming in the distance,” Makovec said.

The men went to the basement, joining a group of people who were at the Makovec home for a birthday celebration. They weren’t there long before the tornado hit.

“We weren’t even in the basement for over a minute, and that’s when our ears popped and there was a big boom. It was weird, dust just flew in our faces. It was freaky,” Makovec’s 17-year-old daughter Ellie said.

Amy didn’t know what to expect when they came up from the basement minutes later.

“I really thought maybe part of the house was gone, or maybe the roof would be gone, so coming out I was somewhat relieved, but surprised,” she said.

The Makovecs discovered two shattered windows in the living room. When they went outside, they learned the extent of the damage.

“We lost four or five sheds, a lot of trees, on the house there was a little bit of roof damage, and the siding. The house is basically in pretty good shape, I hope,” Darren said.

A split tree toppled onto an SUV in the driveway, with pieces of a shattered outhouse shoved up against it. Remains of a playhouse and swing set had switched places due to the swirling wind. A large tree snapped off about 12 feet high, opening a hole in the trunk where four baby kittens rode out the storm.

“I just can’t believe all my trees are gone,” Amy said. The Makovecs had done extensive tree plantings to eventually replace the elm trees they planned to cut down.

“All my Bradford pears, I had three along there, two right here, they’re gone. I had a real pretty tree back there that was just getting good-sized, and it’s bent over,” Amy said.

The Makovecs spent a restless night nine miles away with Amy’s mother.

“Another storm popped up, two different times it got windy again, and I’m up looking out the window,” Amy said. “When there’s lightning, sometimes I’d see a tornado now. None of us slept good.”

South of the Makovecs, the modular home of Merle and Deb Ecklund suffered extensive damage. Strips of the green metal that had been the roof hung in the branches of the hedge row east of the house, leaving all the rafters exposed.

The ceiling in the kitchen collapsed, the windows were shattered, and the kitchen cabinets were spackled with insulation. The garage was completely gone, and a large oil pump in the field south of the house had been toppled.

The Ecklunds’ son Randy arrived Sunday at approximately 9 a.m. to survey the damage.

“I was in Waynoka, Okla. getting hailed on. I took damage to all my stuff,” Ecklund said. “I just got home about an hour ago.

Ecklund was thankful his wife called Saturday to encourage Merle and Deb to come over to their house to weather the storm. They left the house about 20 minutes before the tornado hit.

“Dad and her would’ve been in here, he wouldn’t have come over on his own. It might have saved his life,” Ecklund said.

“We talked about getting them a storm shelter about three weeks ago, but hadn’t done it yet,” Ecklund said. “Guess there’s no use for it now.”

A large barn belonging to Frank Svitak, at 2622 Remington Road south of Pilsen, collapsed after the roof was ripped off. Trees were snapped off, one landing on the power line to the house. Windows were broken, siding was stripped off, and while intact, the house may have shifted slightly.

“I don’t know, but I think it did,” Svitak said.

Svitak wasn’t around when the tornado hit.

“I took off when they said it was in Moundridge,” Svitak said. He spent the night in Pilsen with friends.

Goessel and K-15

One funnel, possibly two, touched down and left damage seven miles west of Hillsboro near K-15 Highway.

“Everyone was very fortunate here,” Rachel Burkholder at 1675 K-15, Hillsboro, said. “We never really saw it, everything was very dark, but we heard it.”

Burkholder, her husband Brian, and three children were home at the time. She said heavy rain came from the west first, then suddenly switched directions, pelting their home from the east.

“We were down in our basement and our ears were popping,” she said. “It was kind of surreal.”

After the storm, which only lasted a few minutes, the family found a corner of their house peeled back and flipped over, exposing insulation. A shed and trampoline were completely missing from their yard, and debris littered their horse corral.

“I am amazed the horses weren’t hurt because there was wood and trees splintered everywhere,” Burkholder said.

Burkholder’s neighbors to the south, Doc and Sandra Salsbury, were also home in their basement at the time the tornado touched down in their backyard.

“Just 10 seconds before it hit, our cat went ballistic,” Doc Salsbury said. “His eyes went black, his hair stood on end and he went tearing around the basement like crazy.”

Salsbury said it sounded like a big door slammed when the tornado hit and then a sound like a huge jet engine accelerating before takeoff filled their ears.

The older couple emerged from their basement a few minutes later when all was quiet to find their backyard completely torn apart. Trees were ripped from the earth not more than 15 yards behind the house, pine trees were snapped, and a twisted trail of complete woodland devastation followed the spring-fed creek just yards west and north of the home. The devastation continued more than 200 yards north along the creek, traveling to the Burkholder farm, where it lifted up and skimmed over the top of their house.

“We were all very lucky,” Salsbery said. “Not a window was broken on our house, but the trees are pretty bad.”

Prior to touching down five miles north of Goessel, the National Weather Service recorded several official tornado sightings northwest of the town.

“My husband is a storm spotter and we were south of the Moundridge Road near Hesston when we saw it,” Goessel City Clerk Anita Goertzen said. “It was quite awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen one that close.

“It caused some damage at the home of Lu Fensky, across from the Fensky Feedlot east of the Canton/Hesston Road,” Goertzen said.

Tornado sirens sounded in Hillsboro at 7:45 p.m., bringing to a halt several community activities, including Hillsboro High School prom and a show pig sale at the Marion County Fairgrounds.

A pre-prom banquet at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church went as planned, but the promenade before the dance was cut short as students, spectators, and chaperones took shelter in the Hillsboro Middle School locker rooms for about an hour.

After an all-clear signal sounded, the prom dance continued as scheduled, but organizers of the after-prom party decided to postpone the all-night event until Friday.

Tornado sirens also interrupted the Frantz show-pig sale Saturday at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Pig buyers and sellers took refuge in a church basement for a time, before resuming the sale, which continued late into the night.

Hail

At the same time that many residents of northern Marion County were hiding from the tornado, a severe hail and rainstorm hit some of them, damaging or destroying field crops of wheat and alfalfa.

Some observers said the damage appeared to be in a 3-by-10-mile diagonal strip from north of Hillsboro toward Ramona and Lost Springs.

The farm of Henry Keil, 1.5 miles north of 290th Road on Quail Creek Road, was hard hit. Keil said the storm lasted 20 minutes and produced quarter-size hail and heavy rain. The house received minor damage, but he estimated that his 300 acres of wheat was 90 percent destroyed. Even pasture grass was beat down, he said.

Cody and Shaina Schafer have wheat along 290th Road between Nighthawk and Mustang Roads. It was damaged by baseball-size hail. A tree was blown down across the driveway to their farmstead.

Steve and Judy Kill live farther west on 320th Road. They were down in their basement as 2.5-inch hail fell. They said two inches of rain fell in 15 minutes. The wind and hail broke out two skylights and caused paint damage but no other major damage to their house. Judy Kill said the wheat all around them was damaged.

The Joe Tajchman farm at 310th and Pawnee Roads was in the hail area. Barbara Tajchman reported several windows in the house and other buildings were broken and the wheat was damaged.

Last modified April 19, 2012

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