Hundreds of volunteers flock to Andover, Kansas to help clean up after tornado | KCUR 89.3

Hopeful volunteers packed Andover United Methodist Church on Tuesday to help clean up after a tornado rocked the town over the weekend.

Organizers estimate that more than 500 people have signed up to volunteer. Some have volunteered on behalf of groups like churches or McConnell Air Force Base, while others have come forward to help on their own.

Reverend Hollie Tapley is the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Great Plains United Methodist Conference. She came to town from Topeka over the weekend to help organize the volunteer efforts.

“You know, we’re working around the weather this week, which isn’t helping at all,” she said. “So today is really the first time we could even get volunteers out.”

Manny Balale watches his steps as he carries debris from the amphitheater on Tuesday.

Much of Tuesday’s work focused on Andover Central Park, where debris from damaged trees and buildings was spread. Large tracts of trees were completely destroyed and some of the city buildings in the park were damaged.

Other volunteers have been sent to neighborhoods to help residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Authorities estimate that more than 1,000 buildings were damaged, with at least 300 or 400 destroyed.

Among those buildings was the Andover YMCA, which could be seen in photos with crashed cars in the foreground. Some residents had to take refuge in the building during the storm.

Michelle Guenthner, an Andover resident who was volunteering Tuesday, described the facility as a hub for health, recreation and learning in the community.

“It helps so many people here,” she said. “I anticipate it will take some time for things to get back to normal, and it’s always sad when something like this affects everyone.”

    Volunteers pick up trash and debris around Andover Town Hall on Tuesday.

Volunteers pick up trash and debris around Andover Town Hall on Tuesday.

Guenthner and her husband, Jeremy, have lived in Andover for 13 years.

Their home was thankfully undamaged on Friday, but they said they felt motivated to volunteer after seeing what the storm had done to other parts of town.

“Just to see everyone ready to help, ready to wait, ready to do anything – I mean, it’s amazing when people come together,” Guenthner said.

Andover was hit by another devastating tornado in 1991. It killed 17 people and was designated EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the highest rating on the scale – which is used to measure the intensity of the tornado.

Following the disaster, Butler County formed a full-time emergency management department.

Keri Korthals is director of the department. She said a number of factors, including technology and preparedness, helped prevent the high number of casualties and injuries seen in 1991.

    A truck drives on a secondary road surrounded by destroyed trees.

A truck drives on a secondary road surrounded by destroyed trees.

“People were incredibly aware that a potentially dangerous situation was developing, even before the storms hit,” she said.

“I really have to credit the National Weather Service. Their information prior to this storm was incredible.

The National Weather Service classified Friday’s tornado as an EF-3 with winds of up to 165 miles per hour. The NWS said the tornado was on the ground for nearly 13 miles between 8:10 p.m. and 8:31 p.m. Friday.

Despite the extensive damage caused by the tornadoes, authorities reported only a handful of injuries, most of them minors.

Tapley said work would be suspended Wednesday and potentially Thursday due to forecast rain. The organizers will distribute information to keep volunteers informed of the latest developments.

Those affected by the tornado can visit the Andover Community Center, 1008 E. 13th St. in Andover. United Way of the Plains is available to help residents who have suffered potential financial loss.

There are also resources available that residents might need such as water, snacks, supplies, etc.

United Way is also collecting cash donations for those affected by the tornado.

Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To learn more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Norma A. Roth