Kansas Tornadoes Kill 2, Devastate Town of Chapman

CHAPMAN, Kan. - In a town devastated by a tornado that snapped utility poles and reduced houses and business to rubble, Brad Homman's reaction epitomized optimism: "We've still got half the town intact."

Homman, director of administration and emergency services for Dickinson County, will need that kind of attitude to help bring the community back.

The twister tore a path of destruction six blocks wide through the town of 1,400 people about 140 miles west of Kansas City on Wednesday.

Officials said one woman died, 100 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged, and 80 percent of the town had at least minor damage.

Elsewhere in Kansas, tornadoes caused extensive damage at Kansas State University in Manhattan and killed one person in the tiny town of Soldier.

Names of the storm's victims had not been released.

But nowhere was hit as hard as Chapman, where the tornado left some survivors with vivid — and frightening — memories.

About 100 people huddled in two locker rooms in the school district's gymnasium for shelter as the tornado roared over them.

Construction worker Zac Arensman shielded his 4-year-old stepdaughter with his body after abandoning his family's nearby trailer home. After the twister passed, he and others used a dislodged door as a stretcher to carry to safety a man who had been trapped in his car, one of three people authorities said had been critically injured.

"He was covered in blood," Arensman said of the man he helped carry. "It was chaotic. That's the best way to describe it — I mean, everybody freaking out, a mess."

Two of the injured were in fair condition Thursday.

Outside the gym, several cars looked as if they had been tossed from the parking lot into a nearby field. The elementary and middle schools next to the gym lost part of their roofs and many of their windows and suffered other damage. The high school was in even worse shape, with dislodged cement blocks and bricks from the building strewn around it.

Arensman and his wife, Katrina, eventually were bused to a shelter in a building on the county fairgrounds in Abilene, 11 miles to the west. They weren't sure when the would return home.

"I would just like to see if we have a house to go back to," Katrina Arensman said.

About 35 miles away at Kansas State, storm damage was estimated to exceed $20 million, according to Tom Rawson, the university's vice president for administration and finance. Thursday's classes were canceled.

About 30 summer school classes will be taught at temporary locations Friday. Some classrooms in damaged buildings could be functional by Monday, said M. Duane Nellis, provost and senior vice president.

About 15 homes in Manhattan were "leveled" and more than 30 others, as well as some businesses, were seriously damaged, according to a news release from the Riley County Police Department.

Off campus, a fraternity house was heavily damaged, but all residents were safe and no injuries were reported.

Back in Chapman, probation officer Dan Scanlan shared Homman's take on the disaster. He hunkered down in his bathtub as the tornado tore off part of his home's roof, blew out the windows, moved it slightly off its foundation and damaged his garage enough that he couldn't get his car out.

But Scanlan considered himself lucky.

"People around me — houses are gone," Scanlan said. "Mine's sitting there in probably the best shape of all."

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