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Death Toll Rises in Trailer Park Slammed by Tornado

April 28, 1991

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) _ Bulldozers on Saturday cut through twisted wreckage in a trailer park hardest hit by tornadoes that killed 29 people, and authorities feared the death toll could rise.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed as at least 30 twisters ripped across Kansas and 18 through Oklahoma Friday night. Twenty-six people died in Kansas and three in Oklahoma. More than 200 people were injured.

At least 1,500 people were left homeless. Judy Conners of the Salvation Army said three shelters had been set up and the organization expected to feed 3,000 to 5,000 people Saturday.

The Golden Spur Mobile Home Park in the suburban Wichita town of Andover was leveled, and at least 19 residents died, said Capt. Stan Cox, of the Butler County’s sheriff’s office.

The latest three bodies were found in the wrecked mobile home complex Saturday afternoon.

Gov. Joan Finney issued a state disaster declaration, the first step in getting federal assistance for the stricken areas.

″What I saw made me heartsick,″ she said after an aerial tour. ″The devastation is more widespread than I had anticipated. The suffering must be intense.″

President Bush, contacted at Camp David in Maryland by Sen. Bob Dole, R- Kan., expressed sympathy for the loss of life and property. Bush said he would help as much as he could.

Judy Ingalls, a park resident who was away when the twister struck and destroyed her mobile home, said all her neighbors are dead.

″They didn’t go to the shelter. They’ve always rode them out. We’ve always rode them out. We’ve been here 15 years. They didn’t go. They are taking them out.″

Fire and National Guard crews in search of any missing people carefully moved wreckage from the trailer park, which looked more like a junkyard than a residential area. The search was suspended later to allow residents a chance to comb their properties for belongings.

Authorities imposed a 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew. National Guard troops were patrolling the mobile home park Saturday night.

Cars were crushed under roofs of homes, and bedsprings hung from trees.

Residents who took refuge in storm shelters were moved to several makeshift homeless shelters in schools and other buildings and waited for permission to pick through debris for their belongings.

Joe Smith, a construction worker who lived in the trailer park with his wife and son, said he tried to drive to the underground shelter.

″We didn’t make it. We just had to ride it out in the car,″ he said. ″I watched until the trailer next to me came apart. When that happened, I hit the floor. The windows were sucked into the car. The hood flew up and blew away.″

They were not injured.

″I always said I wanted to see one,″ he added. ″I never wanted to be in one. I just wanted to see it from a distance.″

The governor, Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum, and Reps. Dan Glickman and Dick Nichols toured the devastated area Saturday in National Guard helicopters.

Andover Mayor Jack Finlason put the overall damage at about $50 million. Nearly all of the 240 mobile homes, an additional 110 Andover homes and 11 businesses were destroyed, he said.

″We think we have retrieved all of the fatalities,″ the mayor said, although an unspecified number of trailer park residents remained unaccounted for.

″We still have an area left to search,″ he said. ″I don’t know if there are more, but we are optimistic that’s the total.″

Debris from the trailer park was found three to four miles away, the mayor said.

Rescuers halted their search of the trailer park until Sunday morning while residents with passes were allowed into the area for three hours late Saturday afternoon, he said.

Seven other fatalities in Kansas were attributed to tornadoes, which stretched from north-central Oklahoma to northeast Kansas.

A tornado tossed a hospital wing about 60 yards across McConnell Air Force Base outside Wichita, causing minor injuries. The base legal office also was blown apart.

Kansas lawmakers evacuated the Capitol before tornadoes hit Topeka. The Kansas House ended its session in the middle of a debate and fled the building when a tornado touched down in the northeast part of the city Friday night. No damage or injuries were reported.

The most deadly tornado in Kansas’ history swept through Sumner and Cowley counties in south-central Kansas in May 1955, killing 80 people.

Tornadoes also hit parts of Iowa, Nebraska and Louisiana, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

Update hourly