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5 Reported Dead in Wichita Tornado

May 4, 1999

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Tornadoes ripped through the Wichita area on Monday night, tossing mobile homes into a lake and damaging houses. At least five people were killed, officials said.

Hospitals reported treating nearly 100 people, including 22 in critical condition. Thousands were without power.

Fred Irvin of the Sedgwick County Emergency Preparedness Office said early Tuesday that initial reports of 10 deaths were proved wrong when authorities discovered some bodies had been counted twice.

Police and other emergency workers were going door to door searching for more injured or trapped victims as many roads were blocked by debris from damaged homes and vehicles.

``It is worse than what you can see tonight,″ Sedgwick County Fire Chief Bob Thompson said early Tuesday. ``We’ll probably find more deaths. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it.″

Suburban Haysville was the hardest-hit area, but there also was extensive damage in Wichita, Thompson said.

Some buildings were demolished beyond recognition in Haysville and neighborhoods appeared to be leveled.

Several mobile homes in south Wichita were blown into a lake and several other homes were damaged, Irvin said. At least one of the fatalities was in a mobile home park, he said.

Gov. Bill Graves declared a state of disaster for Sedgwick County.

One person died when a building collapsed in Wichita, the MidAmerica News Network reported.

Thirteen-year-old Courtney Karr said she saw the bay windows in her house cave in and the tornado swirling inside the house. She and her 15-year-old sister Jessie were trapped in the basement when their house was destroyed.

``I got hit in the head by a lawn chair,″ Jessie said.

The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado struck south Wichita and suburban Haysville about 8:30 p.m.

When the storm reached Haysville, it destroyed several businesses in the downtown area.

Emergency officials at Via Christi St. Francis hospital late Monday said many injured people were coming in.

``We’re overloaded. We have critical, we have not critical, we’re getting hammered with traumas right now,″ a hospital employee said.

St. Francis reported treating about 40 people, including 18 who were in critical condition as of early Tuesday morning.

St. Joseph hospital officials said they had treated 55 people, including six in critical condition.

The county declared a state of local emergency disaster. Power lines and trees were reported down throughout the county.

Kansas Gas & Electric spokeswoman Suzanne Coin said at least 20,000 households were without power.

Emergency officials were using military vehicles to help evacuate some homes. Some of the evacuations were in south Wichita, where there was a major natural-gas line leak.

A mobile home owned by Chad Harris was rolled over by the tornado with eight people inside.

``I have no trailer,″ Harris said. ``We all rolled in it. It was the worst experience in my life.″

Two people in the trailer were in critical condition.

``I think I’m still in shock; I can’t cry yet,″ Vicky Moore said as she and her husband walked out of their Haysville neighborhood holding their three dogs. ``I just noticed I don’t have a house.″

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