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Tornado Devastates Kansas Farm Town; Floods on Plains and Midwest

March 15, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Tornadoes ground across Texas, Arkansas and Missouri on Wednesday in a renewed assault of thunderstorms while crews were still clearing the wreckage of more than 100 homes left by twisters that ripped six states.

The thunderstorms also dumped heavy rain that created flood threats, multiplied in Wisconsin by a dam that burst on a pond after being battered by ice.

And while untimely warm weather plagued the Plains and heated the East, heavy snow made travel hazardous in parts of Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana.

A tornado touched down Wednesday night in the southern Arkansas town of Fordyce, injuring at least three people and causing widespread damage to a residential area, said state police Capt. John Kidwell.

Two twisters in central Texas flipped mobile homes, tore off roofs and toppled utility poles Wednesday, and wind in excess of 50 mph blew over trailers and highway signs and downed power lines across northern parts of the state. No injuries were reported.

In central Missouri, tornadoes damaged five businesses about five miles east of Columbia and hurled 18-wheel trucks on top of a building.

″It just picked those transports up and just tossed them like matchsticks,″ said Richard Head of Head Auto Sales. ″This is remarkable.″

″It’s a mess out here,″ said Boone County Fire Protection District spokesman Mike Poe. ″We’ve got debris all over the place.″ There were no reports of injuries, he said.

In the southwestern corner of the state, winds gusting to 100 mph blew off a high school gymnasium roof, toppled utility poles and did an estimated $1.75 million worth of property damage, officials said. No injuries were reported.

The winds also damaged two hangars and several small planes at the Neosho airport, and closed U.S. 71 for six hours because of power poles knocked onto the road.

On Tuesday, tornadoes damaged homes and other property in Kansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas. At least two people were killed and 29 injured.

At least 31 cities from the Mississippi Valley eastward reported record or record-tying high temperatures Wednesday, the third day of unseasonable warmth. The records included 85 at Baltimore, 75 at Detroit, 76 at Indianapolis, 80 at Rochester, N.Y., and 86 at Washington’s National Airport. The high at Indianapolis erased a record on the books since 1875, the National Weather Service said.

Because of the unseasonable warmth, the cherry blossoms in Washington will peak Thursday and Friday, and will be gone by the April opening of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, said National Park Service spokeswoman Marja Morris.

″Over the weekend they will be good, but they’ll only last four or five days,″ she said. But tulips are about three weeks ahead of schedule and will flower in time for the cherry blossom festival, she said.

In the Dallas area, the weather service posted flash flood warnings after more than 4 inches of rain fell at Lake Mexia, with 1.50 inches in just one hour, and 2 to 3 inches fell in Henderson County.

Missouri also got heavy rain Wednesday as several lines of thunderstorms swept across the state during the morning. Springfield had almost 2 inches by 6 a.m., flooding some intersections and damaging underground telephone cable.

Flooding also was a major concern in Oklahoma. ″The ground is completely saturated over much of the state, and flood-prone areas are going to have a problem,″ meteorologist Ken Huckabee said. Schools were closed Wednesday in Ochelata and Ramona in northeastern Oklahoma because of high water.

Heavy rain flooded rural roads in southwestern Wisconsin and a dam on a creek that was pounded by floating ice gave way Wednesday, causing a flood threat downstream on the Trempealeau River at the city of Arcadia, officials said.

Police Chief Patrick Grzadzielewski said weather officials estimated the dam break could produce a rise of 1 to 2 feet in the river at his city. The river already had been rising about an inch every hour and was about 12 to 14 inches from the top of its banks as of 11:30 a.m., he said.

In colder areas, ground blizzards of fresh snow stirred up by wind gusting to 50 mph forced the Wyoming Highway Patrol to close a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie. Several jackknifed trucks also contributed to Wedenesday’s closure.

In Montana, the ski area in the Little Belt Mountains southeast of Great Falls reported 20 inches of new snow Wednesday morning, but U.S. 89 in the area was snowpacked and icy.

Schools remained open in snowbound Chouteau County, but the county spelling bee was canceled because 12 contestants from the tiny town of Geraldine couldn’t make it to Fort Benton.

Seventy-eight tornadoes were reported Tuesday, 25 in Kansas alone, said Ed Ferguson, deputy director of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City. He said he expected the count to go down because of duplication.

″It’s very unusual to have that many tornadoes reported any one day, any time in the season,″ he said.

Nebraska reported 16 twisters, Iowa had 15, Oklahoma reported 14, Illinois sighted six and two were reported in Texas, he said.

″The unusual aspect is that the severe activity extended so far to the north,″ Ferguson said. ″Normally we expect the severe weather in northern states to come later in the season.″

The worst of the tornadoes damaged 75 to 100 homes in Hesston, Kan., 35 miles north of Wichita, Ferguson said.

The two deaths occurred near Kansas towns of Burrton and Goessel, near Hesston.

″It looks like it traveled a hundred miles at least and maybe a little over that. It was on the ground for 2 1/2 hours. The average tornado is on the ground only for a couple of miles,″ Ferguson said.

Extensive damage in Hesston prompted authorities to cordon off the town of 4,000 on Wednesday, barricading all roads and guarding heavily damaged residential areas and businesses. A Highway Patrol officer stood guard outside the Hesston State Bank, which lost its roof and part of a wall.

Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden declared eight counties disaster areas.

Sixteen people were injured in Hesston, but only four required hospitalizatio n, said City Administrator Jay Weiland, who was in his home when the tornado approached.

″I looked out our back door and I saw this thing coming,″ he said. ″I thought ’Oh, my God, there goes my town.‴

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