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La Crosse, Russell hit by twisters

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

A night of twisters in northwest Kansas left many residents with a monumental Memorial Day cleanup project, but an overwhelming sense of "it could have been worse."

The city of La Crosse saw the area's biggest swath of damage, where approximately four blocks near Fifth and Main Street received significant damage. One building, a farm shed and storage barn, car wash, and three camping trailers were destroyed. Five tornadoes were reported in Rush County throughout the evening.

"I was out on the front porch, and it sounded like a freight train," said Monte Basgall, who lives across the street west of La Crosse Elementary School. "We just got down in the basement and the windows started going in and out.

"After about five seconds, it was gone."

Basgall and his wife, Jamie along with three other people, huddled in their basement during the tornado that hit late Friday evening. Although Jamie Basgall's wine glass bottle garden received no damage, their small backyard lawn shed lifted over a fence and crashed into the grade school fence.

"I've never been through anything like this before," Monte Basgall said. "I'll never forget that sound.

"They say it always sounds like a freight train, and it did to me."

La Crosse residents were keeping their eye Friday night on a larger wedge tornado northwest of town, Rush County Emergency Preparedness Director James Fisher said. The tornado that hit the city of La Crosse, termed a satellite tornado by the National Weather Service, was spawned by the larger storm system.

"You could see it very easily," he said. "It was a big sucker."

Duane Moeder, La Crosse city manager, who was outside of town coming in when the tornado hit, also had his eye on the larger tornado.

"The one that came through here, I don't think anyone saw it," Moeder said. "The one northwest of town, several people saw, said it was a large wedge tornado. According to witnesses, the tornado northwest of La Crosse could be seen ripping wheat fields.

"I've been through it before, just not here," said Moeder, who helped after the Greensburg tornado in 2007. "It's terrible, terrible.

"We're very lucky, very lucky."

Among losses reported after the tornado were 13 cattle owned by Duane Moeder's brother, Kurt Moeder.

The cattle were killed northwest of La Crosse in a separate tornado than the one affecting La Crosse.

No injuries associated with the storm were reported. Fisher attributed that to ample warning time and a slow-moving storm system. Sirens ran throughout the town for approximately 45 minutes.

He has filed an emergency declaration with the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, he said, which will cover only governmental infrastructure.

Clean-up efforts are well underway.

"We've got plenty of equipment," Fisher said. "The county will furnish heavy equipment to do any moving."

Residents have been asked by the city to pile debris curbside, with trash pickup likely to commence Tuesday.

"Now the work begins," said Rodney Ruff, who has lived seven years at a house across the alley from the city's car wash. "It's a mess, just a mess.

"But it could have been a hell of a lot worse."

Karl Houck, Russell County Sheriff's office, said the area hardest hit by the tornado that hit Russell on Friday night was at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Interstate 70. Only one home, Houck said, was completely destroyed.

According to a press release from the Kansas Adjutant General's Department, one person was injured. The individual was transported to Russell Hospital after being injured inside a modular home that was destroyed. Houck could not comment on the identity of the individual nor the extent of the injury. Several outbuildings and other homes also sustained damage in the area.

Local officials conducted search and rescue operations after the tornado, and Russell County will continue to assess the storm damage.

Ellis County had no reports of storm damage from Friday's storm systems, according to Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Ring. Rain reports throughout the county varied widely, with less than .05 reported 3 miles east of Ellis and up to 3 inches in other areas of western Ellis County.

Overall, Ring said, he counts Ellis County as "really fortunate.

"We had at least 10 tornado warnings last night," he said. "The weather service kept us very well informed."

His eye, though, remains on the weather forecast for today.

With an 80-percent chance of rain, damaging winds, baseball-size hail and 80 mph thunderstorm winds in the forecast, Ring said he isn't making any other plans for the Memorial Day weekend beyond watching the weather.