WaKEENEY — A severe thunderstorm with large hail, heavy rains and strong winds passed through Trego County late Thursday afternoon, leaving broken windows and structural damage throughout the area.
The Kansas Highway Patrol reported a fatality crash on Interstate 70 just west of U.S. Highway 283 at approximately 4:30 p.m., but it’s not clear if the three-vehicle crash was caused by the storm.
The National Weather Service in Dodge City reported winds up to 60 mph and hail up to softball size with the storms.
Damage was evident throughout much of WaKeeney — smashed-out windows in vehicles, homes and business, siding hanging in shreds from homes and trees stripped of leaves and even bark.
The red roof of the Dairy Queen was torn off, and across the street, the greenhouse at the Secret Garden and Flower Shop was in tatters.
At Jay Bros Convenience Store near the interstate, at least half a dozen cars sat in the parking lot with shattered windshields and windows demolished.
When the storm hit, Dani Rodriguez, Salt Lake City, was on her way home from Wichita, where she is a college student. The rear window of her vehicle was broken out, and her windshield was shattered where large hailstones crashed into it.
She managed to reserve a hotel room in Hays and was waiting for her car to be towed there. But, she said, she had only a small window when she could travel home, and because of the car repairs, she’ll have to postpone that trip until Christmas.
Dre’y Eby, manager of Jay Bros, said she was outside taking video of the clouds when one nearby began circulating. With tornado sirens and cellphone alarms blaring, she urged travelers who had pulled into her parking lot to come inside.
“But some of them, they just wouldn’t come in. They wanted to stay in their cars,” she said.
“When their windows got busted out, they tried to come in.”
By that time, Eby had gotten approximately 30 people into the store’s cooler for shelter.
“I kept checking out here in case people were trying to come in, so I just let more and more people in. By then, the doors were ready to be blown off. It was intense,” she said.
Assessing the damage, she said, “Pretty much everything is trashed,” including the roof and a window of the store, and a company-owned camper.
“It’s destroyed. My own truck is destroyed. Everybody’s stuff is. The only thing that really mattered, though, is that the people did come in and be safe,” she said.
WaKeeney USD 208 Superintendent Tavis Desormiers was at the football field early in the evening, checking out damage there. The press box was blown off the top of the stadium seating into the fence.
At the high school, the west windows of the vocational agriculture area and a greenhouse were destroyed, he said. Some skylights at the high school also were damaged, which caused some water damage inside.
Suburbans inside the district’s bus barn even were damaged when hail broke out the windows of the building then pounded the vehicles, he said.
He expects that, despite the damage, classes will begin as scheduled.
“Our focus is going to be on opening in two weeks, making sure everything is good to go,” he said.
Volunteers helped board up business windows and clean up damage downtown.
Rob, Pam and Nick Schamberger set plywood in the windows of The Studio and cleaned up the remains of the stained glass above the entrance. Building owner Lynette Schubert is on vacation out of town, Rob said. They had been in contact with her and worked to clean up the broken glass and secure the building.
According to Trego County Emergency Management, the Trego County Commission signed a local declaration of disaster and sent it to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
Western Cooperative reported more than 1,000 customers lost power in the storm. They expected to have power restored to most late Thursday night.