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Not Soon Forgotten: Stories from the Hesston Tornado
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Not Soon Forgotten: Stories from the Hesston Tornado

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A collection of stories recounting personal experiences of the Hesston Tornado


Hesston High School Class of 1991



Hesston Public Library











Hesston, Kan.

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Not Soon Forgotten

SEP 03 '91
OCT 01 '91
NOV 27 '91
AUG 26 '94

#47-0108 Peel Off Pressure Sensitive
Hesston Public Library
Hesston, Kansas 670622
Not Soon Forgotten
Stories from the Hesston Tornado
Written by the Hesston High School Class of 1991 following the March 13,1990 Tornado
Written between
March 21-23,1990
T 26472
110 E. SMITH P.0. BOX 640 HESSTON, KANSAS 67062
Sorrow is better than fear, said Father Vincent. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arriving...
When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house... But when the house is destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he can rebuild a house.
—Alan Paton,
Cry, the Beloved Country
If you can dream and not make dreams your master, If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, my son!
—Rudyard Kipling “If—”
Nora Allen Jason Chaffee Melissa Davis Mary N. Dunkin Stacy Ellingson Matt Frey Laura Geabhart Rob Good Brad Homant Kurt Hostetler Brad Klassen Brad Koehn Krehbiel Kelly Leinbach Jeff Morris Amy E. Patton Cristy Rodgers Greg Sawin Jason Stansbury Brian Unruh Tom Unruh Kevin Vogt
Michelle Winchester Keith Yutzy
Kyle Arnold Lorraine Claassen Julie Diller Jenny Ediger Tyler Estes Jacob Fry Kevin Goering Darin Hecht Liz Horst Blake Jantz Gretchen Klassen Renee Kratky Mark Lakin Jay Marcotte Nathan Osborne Kieran Ratzlaff Michelle Roth Celide Schmidt Tammie Stone Jan-Erik Unruh Kerry Vogt Bryon Wegerle
Delvin Wohlgemuth
Not Soon Forgotten:
Stories from the Hesston Tornado
©1991, Hesston High School English Department Hesston, Kansas 67062
Cover art and design: Laura Geabhart and Brad Koehn Layout and design: Jason Chaffee, Kenton Hamilton, Darla Morris Printing and Production: Orie Davis Jason Sommerfield Eric Unruh Charlie Robinson Editor: Ed Zuercher
This book was written, produced and printed in its entirety by Hesston High School staff and students
Foreword, 1990
As most people in Kansas now know, March 13, 1990, was a wild weather day. At 5:37 in the afternoon, a tornado roared through Hesston, disrupting lives forever. Before, it had claimed an innocent life in Burrton; after, it took a life in Goessel. In between, it leveled homes and businesses in our quiet, clean little town.
Newspapers usually describe tornadoes as “dropping from the sky.” This monster, however, wasn’t a usual tornado; it stayed on the ground for a nearly 100-mile journey and was clearly visible for miles before it hit Hesston. In the scientific and meteorological analysis of weeks following, scientists informed Kansans that it was an F-4 tornado, which means it was of the second highest strength possible on the measuring scale, with winds over 200 miles per hour. It spawned another tornado of the highest magnitude, an F-5 with winds exceeding 300 miles per hour, that passed north of town.
All the scientific data, however, don’t relate personal experience. For that, we must go to people and their stories. Every person who lives through a tornado has a slightly different viewpoint; each story is a unique one. Written only one week after the tornado hit, each story in this collection from the Hesston High School class of 1991 gives a different perspective with a different emphasis. Some tell of the terror of having a home ripped from above their heads; others relive the fears of looking for loved ones among the ruins; still others recount the experience from afar, through sketchy and often inaccurate news reports and the desperation of trying to reach home through jammed phone lines.
This collection of individual stories forms an overall snapshot of a disaster, seen not through
the distancing effect of a television camera or a radio microphone or a photographer’s lens, but through real vision and experience. In future years, as memories cloud and the pain and adrenaline fade, these stories will remain to remind us all of an act of Nature and our responses to it
Edward Zuercher, Instructor April 13,1990
Foreword, 1991
Almost one year ago, our quiet existence in Hesston was rocked by an act of Nature - a great tornado. In the months that followed March 13,1990, we cleaned up our town and rebuilt our lives, we watched videotape and listened to others’ stories. The summer air in Hesston resounded with the pounding of hammers, the whining of electric saws and the beeping and roaring of high-loaders. By now, Melissa Davis has a new home; so does Rob Good, although the English textbook Rob had at home is “somewhere over the rainbow”! Nora Allen got a new car; the band members got themselves cleaned up after slopping around in the ditch on Old Highway 81. Kevin Vogt’s family has moved their concrete business to a new and better facility northwest of town, while Laura Geabhart’s family bought Bitikofer Radiator as planned. Several other students put on new roofs, cleaned up relatives’ farms, or walked fields to pick up trash. Jason Chaffee was presented a beautiful Pizza Hut watch for being calm in the face of danger in the walk-in cooler at Pizza Hut Sav-A-Trip got its sign by the interstate replaced. All these things remind us and reassure us that the “devastation” that so many remembered is being repaired. Several students have moved to other communities, reminding us that the flow of life continues.
But as the one year anniversary approaches, it is good to look back at the raw emotion expressed by the students of the class of 1991, those who knew that this event would not be soon forgotten. Much of the physical damage has been repaired, but the tornado has caused us all to look inside, at our “safe” existence in this small, peaceful town, and realize that there are things that we can’t control. But we also realized that we can control many things, such as how we treat each other and respond to each other’s needs. Michelle Winchester’s “Yo Crew” and Kevin Goering’s help at Kropf lumber were but two examples of how students and faculty pitched in to help one another and the community.
Some of us may never again face anything as frightening or powerful as the twister that swept through Hesston on March 13; many of us may face greater challenges in the future. Whatever the case, we all learned that life is a response to the world, not just a passive acceptance; and we learned that, to paraphrase Alan Paton’s eloquent words, we can do nothing about storms, but we can rebuild.
Edward Zuercher, Instructor Hesston High School February 13, 1991
The Class of 1991
Nora Allen
March 13, 1990 began just like any other day. After school, my boyfriend picked me up and we went into Newton. We were coming home on K-1S when I happened to look in the general direction of Hesston. I saw what I thought was smoke from a very large fire, but I looked again and realized that it was moving towards us.
At first, I didn’t even realize that it was a tornado. I got Curt’s attention and told him to look He pulled off the road and we just sat there watching it. I don’t know how long it took me to realize that there were other cars pulled off the road and that it was actually a tornado.
We were trying to decide if it would be safer to go back into Newton or if we should just try to go home. We decided that it had already gone through Hesston, so we decided to take the interstate home. The thing that I remember the most is when we tried to exit at Hesston. There was a cop at the beginning of the exit and the first thing that he said to us was, “Welcome to Oz. Do you live here?”
As we drove through town on Lincoln Boulevard, I didn’t even recognize Pizza Hut or Sav-A-Trip. When we got home and I noticed that mom’s car was gone, I was totally panicked. I was out of the car and into the house before Curt even had it in park. I ran inside and saw my sister, but I still had no idea where my mom was. Denise assured me that they were alright and told me that mom was in the kitchen. Later she told me that they had been in the Pizza Hut when it got hit After I found this out, Curt and I walked down to see how badly damaged the car was and to see if it would even start I was in so much of a daze that if he hadn’t been there, I would have been stepping all over what was left of people’s homes. We got to the car and all the windows were busted out. There was an electric line laying across the hood. None of this registered with me and Curt pulled me
Nora Allen
away just before I tried to open the door to see if the car would start
That night was really bad. With no electricity we had no way of finding out exactly how much damage there was. It wasn’t until the next day, while I was helping with the clean-up, that I realized how much of the town had been damaged. If I hadn’t gone out on the clean-up crews and helped get the town “back to normal” I think I would have gone crazy wondering what exactly happened. It’s great the way the town pulled together to help get everybody back on their feet again; it’s just sad that something this tragic had to happen to make everybody forget their differences and work together.
Kyle Arnold
I was in Topeka, Kansas, for Close-Up Kansas. Everybody was eating at Furr’s Cafeteria. After eating, all the students, including the ones from Hesston, went to the bus to go back to the Ramada Inn where we were staying. When we arrived, a man told all the kids from Hesston to stay outside. Carl Boyer, our group leader, was then being informed about the tornado that hit Hesston.
I thought we were getting sent home due to the fact that we were a little rowdy the night before. I became very nervous. By this time, chills took over my body and my full stomach felt sick. Finally, Carl returned to tell us that Hesston had been hit by a tornado. I felt relieved for an instant, assuming just a couple of houses were hit.
After hearing the bad news our group from Hesston went into the hotel and found the phones. We tried to call, but before any of us got through, Carl had received a call from his daughter. Another call also came in from Mrs. Estes, the principal’s wife. Both said that none of our families were hurt. A little later we found out that one of Hesston’s Close-Up Kansas members was homeless. This was Rob Good. Seeing the expression on his face was bitterly sad.
About two hours later, at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., I got through to my house. I found out that our house was missing part of a roof, but the damage was nothing compared to the houses one hundred yards to the north. That whole part of my neighborhood was gone. The group later decided to wait until the morning to leave for home.
At 10:00 p.m., we sat in the hotel room and watched our hometown on the Topeka local news. The news only showed a few piles of the rubble and didn’t show us much of our town.
At 5:00 the next morning, we were on the road heading back to Hesston, or what was left. It was a long and quiet ride back and not much was said. After about two hours of driving I was just getting relaxed enough to sleep. But just before dozing off, I got smacked on the shoulder. It was Carl, who was pointing at a hedge row that had obviously been hit by the tornado. Every tree in that hedge row was completely up-rooted. The row looked like it was about a mile long. I did not feel sleepy after that A few miles later, we could
Kyle Arnold
see our little town off in the distance.
Driving into Hesston gave me the strangest feeling that I have ever felt My town that I have lived in all my life was a big trash pile. The path that the tornado took was easily seen.
The destruction was incredible. There are really no appropriate words to describe the damage that our town went through.
When I arrived at home, I noticed that the hole in our house’s roof had about a five-foot diameter. But I was thankful to see that we had a roof; after all, my friend Rob didn’t even have a roof, or a house for that matter.
The destruction of Hesston on March 13,1990, was something that I will never forget I will also never forget how fast the community bounced back. It has been about a week since the tornado came through and considering the circumstances, our town is looking pretty good. The bond that this community has is something very special and I hope it never leaves.
Jason Chaffee
It was a mellow day that had feelings of confusion and madness circulating through my mind. It was as if everyone I knew was an outsider. I had no good feelings towards anyone, especially my friends. I went to work at Pizza Hut and the confusion and madness continued to boggle my mind. I didn’t feel much like working, but I sombered through it while the waitress kept trying to find out why I was mad at her. She wouldn’t leave me alone so, because of the mood I was in, I started giving her points to ponder. Then the managers came in and tuned the radio to KFDI to check the weather and they heard about tornado sightings, so they stood outside to watch for some. I kept on making pizzas, with a little bit of pleasure now because I was scaring the waitress with the thought of the tornado being about ready to hit us. I was joking and having fun with my counterpart as we made pizzas up to the last minute. As I was topping a pepperoni pizza, the managers came in and made us get into die walk-in freezer. My fellow cook mentioned that it sounded like a train so we made a train’s horn sound and joked around. Then it hit and everybody was quiet except for a few lady customers who woe screaming some gibberish. Glass was shattering, debris was flying around and bouncing off the Pizza Hut like it was a pinball machine. Finally, after a few seconds it was over. Everybody inside the walk-in proceeded to walk out and that’s when I noticed the damage to the Pizza Hut. The front of the building was gone and all of the cars were either gone or destroyed. Startled, I noticed Sav-A-Trip gone along with the car wash and half the town. At that moment my heart sank, for I was in shock. Not more than five minutes earlier I was joking about the big, black, destructive squall, and now it had made a tornado alley. I am and probably always will be in a state of utter disbelief of what happened on Tuesday, March 13,1990.
Lorraine Claassen
I stepped off the bus and was walking toward the hotel when a strange man called me aside. His face conveyed much seriousness as he asked gravely, “Are you from Hesston?” Wondering what he wanted, I answered that I was. Little did I know the true graveness of the situation.
A group of seven other Hesston students and I had been attending the Close-Up Kansas workshop in Topeka at the time. Following a full day of meetings and lectures, we were just returning from our meal at Furr’s Cafeteria. This stranger instructed me to gather all other Hesston students together. As we clustered, our only thoughts were, “What’s wrong? Are we in trouble? I didn’t do anything!” We had no premonition of any kind of community danger. Then our sponsor, Carl Boyer, came back with the message. We took one look at his face and knew things were definitely not right We just hoped we weren’t going to be sent home early for goofing around the night before. So it was a total shock to us when Carl blurted, “A tornado has just hit Hesston!”
I guess at first I didn’t realize just what those five words would actually mean for all of us. I understood that this was a bad situation and that it could affect each of us personally, but this was the extent of my comprehension. So, still in a state of shock, we all followed Carl and several other concerned leaders as they walked towards the front desk and telephones. I sat there as he tried to make calls into Hesston trying to imagine what the town must look like. I didn’t have nearly any idea about how terrible the situation really was. We received a message that none of our families were hurt, and that spelled relief for a while, until we began to hear other news. The first things we were hearing contended that the whole west side of town was gone. Then we found out that the whole row of houses on Roupp Street was demolished, straight through to Rob Good’s new house. That was when I
Lorraine Claassen
really started to feel the impact of the damage. For I had nothing else to believe but that my -home was completely flattened.
This was the way everything went for about an hour or so. We would get a few calls through, obtain a little more incorrect information, then make another call and learn with relief that some of that was false. Finally enough calls had been made that we were ready to go watch TV and find out what the media had to say about it. So we all trooped upstairs to Kyle’s hotel room for a while, turned on the set, and waited. We freaked out when emergency news bulletins began flashing about the “huge tornado in Hesston.” Never before had we seen Hesston on the news this much! There were even live reports at ten o’clock!
After learning the destructive wind storm was still on the ground headed our way, we decided it was best to wait until morning to go home. Most of us didn’t sleep too well that night. And though the evening before had been a traumatic experience, the worst part by far was the ride home.
We remained very quiet for most of the two-and-a-half hour trip, listening to the latest news reports on KFDI. But nothing we could have heard or seen would have prepared us for the sight we faced as we drove into Hesston. Coming into what was left of our hometown from K-15 on Lincoln Boulevard took us through a lot of the worst damage. By this time I knew my house was okay, but the devastation brought tears as I thought of the families and friends that were experiencing a loss I didn’t have. We continued driving through town, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen so much destruction, not to mention so many visiting volunteers in our small town. Our population had doubled for the day with all the help we were receiving. By the time I had viewed almost every area that had been hit, I knew there was no other option but to help clean up. And so I joined the
Lorraine Claassen
hundreds of volunteers in their efforts, each of us wanting to do our part so that life could someday return to the way it was before seven students, a sponsor and I had left for Topeka.
Melissa Davis
Around 5:00 pm, Tuesday, March 13, 1990, I was in my room studying for two tests that I had the following day - one in English over Emily Dickinson poetry, and one in American History covering the 1950s. I was lying on my bed when I heard some sirens blowing. For some reason, I thought it was the noon whistle, since it was the same kind of sound. My mom came in and said that the sirens were warnings for an approaching tornado, and that we should go to the basement, where we would be the safest I debated whether or not to take my books with me, since we could be there for awhile, and I had a lot of studying to do, but decided against it Little did I know that school work would be the least of my worries in less than an hour.
My mom called my grandparents about this time, and told them that there were tornado warnings, but she added that she wasn’t sure how serious they were.
My brother Matt was downstairs (since he was on spring break from K-State) watching television. He heard on TV that a big storm was actually coming, so he moved his car from the street into the garage where it would be protected. He came back down with Mom, and we all sat there and watched the warnings. Then, a voice from the Harvey County emergency crew came over the TV and warned all residents in Hesston to take cover since a tornado had been sighted a few miles from town. Then the electricity suddenly went off, and we all just sat there in the dark, and were bored. We noticed that the wind had become very calm, and Matt said we’d better take this seriously.
The three of us each got against a different wall, and the wind came up suddenly. I noticed that my ears were feeling a lot of pressure, and were starting to hurt Parts of our ceiling were falling, and one small part hit me on the back. I tried to close my ears with my fingers, and screamed really loud. Then, a sound like dynamite filled the air, and our windows all blew out. The wind stayed up for just a few more seconds, and then it was
Melissa Davis
calm again. My mom and Matt came over to me, and we walked to the basement stairs.
Our kitchen sink, two kitchen chairs, and many dishes lay scattered there. I still didn’t realize what destruction had occurred, but I would soon find out
Matt walked up the stairs and over the rubble. Mom and I wailed for him to throw me some shoes, since I could not walk over all the glass on the stairs. My mom asked Matt whether or not all the furniture was okay. I’ll never forget the words that he said. He said, “Mom, we have no roof.”
Realization was not coming yet; we had to see it to believe it We walked up and my stomach felt as if it had a huge rock in it Not only did we not have a roof, but only one wall was standing at all. The rest of our house was completely gone. What was left of our possessions was scattered on our lawn. I looked around, mid only one house on our whole street was left completely intact I started crying then, and my mom, my brother and I just hugged and cried in disbelief. Minutes later my dad drove home from work, and he ran to us in our yard, and cried really hard, too. He was so happy just to see all of us alive, mid for a minute we forgot about the house we had just lost
The next few days for me were very difficult I had to try and find what I could
that was mine. That meant looking not only in our yard and surrounding yards, but also in
fields miles away. We loaded up boxes of clothes and bodes mid took them to a friend’s
shed to sort through. I found a majority of my clothing and shoes, and my homework was
still lying in my room, untouched except for a small amount of insulation between the pages,
even though my bed was nowhere to be found. I lost a lot more than I found, however. My
entire bedroom set was gone. My TV, stereo, phone, and jewelry were all missing, too,
along with a lot of precious things to me that weren't worth a lot of money. Myrtle, the beautiful car that I had bought only a year and a half before, was turned upside
Melissa Davis
down on our front lawn. It had hit our basketball goal, and flipped over. The family car and Matt’s car, both in the garage, woe crushed by falling debris.
Our family lost a lot during those few seconds that the tornado came through, but we also gained a lot Hundreds of people came to help clean up in our town and around our property. Our family also became a lot closer, and we realized that those material things in our house were important but life cannot be replaced like they can. As we get ready to rebuild our house and our lives this summer, we’ll keep those comforting thoughts in mind and hope for the best
Julie Diller
It was 5:00 and I had just awakened from a quick after-school nap when my younger sister, Lisa, came into my bedroom. She was upset because she heard that a tornado warning had been issued for Harvey County. I remember thinking to myself, “This is just another warning - everything will be okay.” We decided to be safe and go downstairs to watch the weather report on the 5:00 news. Lisa called Dad, who was still at work and asked whether he could come home.
Lisa watched the TV while I sat at the other end of the basement family room working with a ceramic pot that was due the next day in art class. Just a few seconds later we heard the siren blow and, about the same time, Dad walked in the house and came downstairs. He didn’t seem to be very upset about the whole thing, so I wasn’t either. I still didn’t realize what a big deal this tornado was going to be. Soon a warning come over the TV telling us to take shelter at once, this was a real tornado, not just a warning. Lisa and Dad wait back upstairs to get our Walkman to listen to. After they came back down, we all sat around and listened to KFDI radio talk about the severe weather in our area.
At this point I still thought that everything would be okay - that this storm was probably going to pass without harm, just like others had. But then a mobile reporter on the radio station announced that a tornado was coming close to the town of Hesston. He said it was two miles from the city baseball diamond and coming directly toward town. About the same time, the electricity went off and Dad told us to follow him under the stairs to sit and wait We could hear the roar from the tornado, and through a basement window, could see pieces of paper and wood flying up and around in the air. We didn’t realize at the time how big some of the pieces woe - they woe really parts of roofs and walls. We sat under the stairs very quietly and just listened to the Walkman for a continuous report of what was going on outside. The reporter announced that the Pizza Hut and Sav-a-Trip had been hit
Julie Diller
along with some other buildings, but it didn’t really register at the time how extensive the damage was.
When I walked up the stairs to look out our living room windows, everything seemed to be about normal. There was a little trash and wood in our yard, but other than that everything was the same. The neighbors were all outside on the streets talking. Although we immediately began to hear news of the damage in other parts of town, it wasn’t until later that night, when I went across town with Dad, that I realized how terrible the destruction really was. At first it seemed like a horrible dream - nothing could look this bad - it didn’t seem real. How could the clean little town that I had grown up in look so different, so scary, and so desolate? It made me afraid and gave me a very cold, hollow feeling.
Mary Dunkin
March 13, 1990, was a hot and windy day. Nobody dreamed that anything bad or scary would happen. But, at 5:35 p.m., the worst disaster in Hesston’s history occurred.
The second biggest tornado in the U.S.’s history tore right through the north and west part of Hesston.
At the time I was at work at Dairy Queen in Newton. I was listening to the radio station, B-98. Then they announced that Hesston had just been hit by a half-mile wide tornado. We were hearing everything, from many people being dead or missing, to the whole town being completely wiped out. I really began to worry about my mother, because I had no idea where she was. She was supposed to be in Newton, but the storm hit before she had to leave. Finally about three hours later some of our Mends came into Dairy Queen and told me she was okay and safe.
I had never been so scared of losing my mother before and I never want to have to deal with that feeling again. She is all I have and I really do not know what I would do without her. Although some day I will have to deal with it, for now I am going to live every moment to its fullest.
Jenny Ediger
At 3:15 Tuesday I rushed out of school; I was on my to Newton to get a haircut.
As I left Hesston everything seemed fine—who would’ve imagined the nightmare that our community was about to experience. An hour and a half later, as I sat in the Hair Cutting Co., I began hearing the first weather advisories on the radio between songs. But this didn’t worry me; I thought it was just going to be another storm. Then we turned the radio station to KFDI for more detailed coverage. The tornado was in the Haven and Burrton area and had touched down and destroyed several farmhouses in its path. In the next report, the spotters had seen the storm near Moundridge and Hesston area. As I kept listening, the tornado was only two miles west of Hesston and moving into the community. ‘Two miles west of town...that’s my home,” I thought Then, for what seemed like forever, we could get no clear reception on the radio. Several minutes later we began getting small bits of information through the static—"Several farmhouses west of town have been destroyed...” “The Pizza Hut and Sav-A-Trip have extensive damage...” Still, after hearing these reports, I couldn’t even picture the destruction. But as I returned to Hesston, even the pictures in my mind were not comparable to what I really saw. On Highway 81 the ambulances and emergency vehicles raced by me and the sky started to darken again. As I neared town the police had already blocked many of the roads and were monitoring traffic very closely; sirens were flashing everywhere. What had really happened here? I could only see the very edge of town before I turned to get home to my family. What would I find when I finally got there? Was my home one of the “several farmhouses that had been destroyed”?
I took Hickory out of town to the dirt roads and soon came to Stan and Sharon Swartzendruber’s farm. It was only a mile from our home and had been completely destroyed! When I saw their house I could only imagine what I would find when I got home. I kept driving very slowly through the country, dodging fallen electrical poles,
Jenny Ediger
pieces of wood and cows that were wandering about mud-covered and disoriented. What I saw was unbelievable—it seemed like a dream. Finally I was in my driveway and I saw my dad come out of the front door. I had never been as relieved to see my family as I was that night. Our house hadn’t even been touched which made what I’d seen only a mile away seem even more unreal. But as I drove around town later that night with Dad, the splintered homes and crushed cars were evidence that the powerful tornado was not just a nightmare—it was real and was not going to go away.
Stacy Ellingson
The first thing I remember about the day of March 13, 1990, is Michelle commenting on how hot and windy it was. When I got home from school, I was working on a painting and watching TV when the weather service kept breaking in and talking about a tornado. My mom stopped what she was doing to listen, but I kept painting because it was really starting to annoy me. When we heard that the tornado was seven miles away and the sirens came on, my mom started getting worried. There was no place for us to go though, because we live on the top floor of a duplex, and Mailt, the man who lives below us, wasn’t home yet Mom wanted to at least go down the stairs, so I told her to go ahead but I was going to stay where I was, because when I was younger, we lived in Oklahoma and I remember her always making us go downstairs for a long time when there were tornado warnings and nothing ever happened. After a few minutes, Mark came home and told us to go downstairs with him. When we got down to his kitchen we were looking out the window. We couldn’t see much, so Mark and I wait outside. Cars kept going down Lincoln Boulevard as fast as they could, and we heard tires screeching as they went around comers. When the tornado got to Hesston and we could see the debris being thrown around, we decided to go into his bedroom. The whole time all this was happening, I stayed totally calm because, for some reason, I didn’t believe that anything serious would actually occur. We all thought it was coming straight for us. As it got closer, we could hear the rumbling. When it seemed to be close to our house, I looked at Mark and my mom. I will never forget the looks on their faces. They both had their eyes closed and my mom was holding our dog tightly. When it was finally over with, we all went outside. When I looked around, I didn’t
Stacy Ellingson
think anything in Hesston could be damaged too seriously because all I saw were a few small branches in our yard. But as I was walking down Lincoln, I began to see some of the destruction it had caused. Now the main thing I think about when I remember that day is how lucky Hesston is that everyone lived through the event.
Tyler Estes
When coach came out to the discus ring, he told us that there was a tornado on the ground, and that it was heading towards Hesston. He told us to get home quick, so I got in the car and went home. Dad came home right after I did, and we got the cat inside and went downstairs to watch the weather on TV. We were watching the news when the Harvey County Emergency Broadcasting Dispatcher cut in and said that all residents of Hesston should take cover immediately. So we all went upstairs to see if we could spot it. It gradually came into view, but I did not think it was a tornado because it looked way too wide. It came in from the southwest, and we saw the K-State research center blow apart, then mom went inside. By this time I could see the tornado very well, and it looked like there were little birds flying around in it. As it came closer it became apparent that the objects were not little birds, but large pieces of debris. As it entered town, right before we went downstairs, I remember clearly the clouds giving birth to little tornadoes, which formed and dissipated without touching down.
Once downstairs we headed for the guest room in the far comer of the house. We were unable to hear the destruction going on above because my cat, Cleopatra, was expressing her discomfort at ear-splitting levels. Though I couldn’t hear the destruction, I could feel the rumble of the tornado, and I could feel the ground vibrating.
Upon exiting the house, I was shocked. The streets were filled with debris, and everything was coated with dirt and mud. I looked across the city ball diamond, and I noticed that the apartments were resting at crazy angles and all the houses down there were gone. I went over there to help people (I was expecting people to be dead or injured) and was overwhelmed by the extent of the damage. It looked like a war zone. Cars and semi trucks were scattered about and destroyed, and the only thing left of houses were concrete
Tyler Estes
slabs and basements. The air was full of police, ambulance, and firetruck sirens, and there were several loud hissing sounds coming from gas leaks.
After walking around the town surveying the extent of the damage, I went to the high school and talked with some friends. We all went to Newton to get something to eat at McDonalds, and then came back to help unload water with the Red Cross.
I will probably have forgotten most of the details later in my life, but I will never forget the sight of the tornado right before it hit town. The extent of the destruction, the flood of emotions as I exited the house after the tornado (shock, disbelief, grief, and anger), and the fact that many people’s homes, personal possesions, businesses, jobs, and dreams were destroyed in a few brief moments will also haunt me forever.
Matt Frey
On March 13,1990, at 5:00 p.m., I was at track practice just getting finished with my workout when word of a tornado watch was heard on the radio in the weight room.
Little did I know that this watch would become more than a threat to the people of Hesston.
All the track coaches told everyone at practice to go home. I didn’t think much about that, so I stuck around a while longer. A freshman asked me to take him home. It was 5:15 and I dropped B.J. Hall off at his house near the car wash on the northeast end of town. It was rather windy out and all I wanted to do was get home. It was 5:30 by the time I made it home; at 5:40 I looked at the sky through the kitchen window with my mother to see what the weather conditions were. We saw the tornado in full swing. The electricity went out in the house. As my mother and I watched the tornado, we were astounded at how huge it appeared, unlike most tornadoes with a narrow base.
Within 20 minutes the electricity came back on. I turned on the TV to watch the news, and they repented that Hesston had severe damage from this huge tornado that hit the town.
I felt relieved that I lived five miles out in the country, but I was worried about my friends and the people living in Hesston. I really wondered who had been hit and what kind of injuries there were. I stayed tuned to the TV as they kept me updated on the developments.
Jacob Fry
Kelly had to be back at work to finish closing on Tuesday evening, March 13, so he drove his car to the Lyons band concerts, to which all other students rode in the school bus, except for me; I rode with Kelly. Our school band played our songs and then went back to our assigned room in Lyons High School. Vern, the Hesston High School band director, sent everyone except for Kelly and me back to the auditorium to listen to other high school bands. After all the students were gone, Vern ordered Kelly and me to drive back to Hesston as fast as possible because he had heard over the radio that a tornado had hit Hesston and the damage was unknown to himself. Kelly and I were very curious to know the fate of Hesston. The day was so beautiful that tragedy seemed utterly impossible and the time was near 6:30 pm. Gradually the wind began to pick up, clouds moved in, and the atmosphere became dark and gloomy. Later, rain drops fell, followed by light hail and then, stillness. Ahead, we could see a man flashing the headlights in his truck at us. We came to a stop on the highway, next to this man and he nervously exclaimed, “There’s a tornado over there on the ground!” which was approximately three to four miles west of Moundridge at the time. Kelly and I agreed to outrun the tornado back to Hesston in order to fulfill our obligation to Vern, which was to call him and report the damage done to the Hesston community.
Once we had arrived in Hesston, we could think of nothing that stood in comparison to the awesome destruction of Hesston, Kansas, now. We drove to my house, which had fortunately been spared by the mighty twister, with the aim of contacting Vern. Once inside, we discovered that my phone line was out of order. Kelly went home to find his house untouched by the tornado and the next day was the first of many clean-up days.
Laura Geabhart
March 13, 1990, began as a very joyful day for my family and I. Well, I guess as joyful as can be expected for a young girl who’s preparing to move away from everything she’s ever known. Although I had never actually been to Hesston, thoughts of it plagued my mind and pervaded my thoughts daily as I anticipated a move on March fifteenth from my home town of Claremore, Oklahoma, to “the place” - Hesston, Kansas.
Though it seems ironic, this horrible, event-filled day was also my seventeeth birthday. Because I was turning seventeen that day, my mother had a birthday cake and presents waiting on the kitchen table for me when I awoke. The joyfulness of a birthday consumed momentarily the sad thoughts of moving. I opened my presents, and had cake for breakfast with my family.
As usual, I went to school, and would have had a fairly normal day, had it not been for the gifts, cards and flowers I received. In just about every class, ny friends sang “Happy Birthday” to me. After school, several of my friends gat together and threw a surprise party for me at Mazzio’s Pizza.
After the party I went to the baseball diamond to watch a game between our high school team and another school, Bishop Kelley. All through the game we woe wrapped up tight in blankets and holding umbrellas because of the rain that fell off and on. Just when we finally decided the rain was steady enough to put up the umbrella, it quit Tracey Fugate and I sat through high winds and rain, until the first game was over, around seven o’clock. Between the two games, I walked over to Seven-Eleven to call home and check in. My mother gave me permission to stay for the next game. She asked me to be home by eight o’clock. I returned to the park, where I sat through another miserable and drenching game. Because of the weather, the game took much longer than normal.
When eight o’clock came and went, I decided that I should let my mom know that it was
Laura Geabhart
taking longer. I called and said that there were only two innings left, and that I would like to stay for them, especially since it was probably going to be the last Claremore baseball game I would ever see my boyfriend, Jason, play. She told me that there was a severe storm coming, and that I should get home right away. Along with the severe weather warnings, there were reports that Hesston, Kansas, had just been recently hit by a tornado - and there were fatalities. I rushed home right away to see what had actually happened, and to see if any of my relatives who lived in nearby towns had been hurt.
Even though I didn’t have any relatives actually in Hesston at the time, there were many who were involved in the damage that occurred in the surrounding areas. The news still wasn’t on public stations, but a friend had called my mother to tell her about it. They had seen it on Cable News Network. We immediately began trying to get in touch with the people we knew living close to Hesston. All of the lines were busy, or else they just rang and rang. We were terribly worried about the business my dad had been trying to purchase in Hesston. We tried calling all through the night, and in to the morning on Wednesday. We finally called relatives in Hutchinson who drove to Hesston, and then returned home and called us from there. They reported that there was mass destruction, yet no fatalities so far. We scoured the news clips, trying to catch a glimpse of Bitikofer Radiator, the business we were interested in. My parents prayed that it still remained, while my sister and I secretly prayed it would be demolished. Needless to say, that would have prevented the move from our home.
My father had recently purchased Bitikofer Radiator, which is right next to the path which the horrendous twister took. We had many mixed feelings as to what our family would do if it were destroyed. But more than that, we were concerned for the well-being of the town and its occupants. Many of our loved ones in the surrounding areas suffered
Laura Geabhart
minor damage, but nothing more. I will never forget the feeling of not knowing. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever had to face. I pray I will never have to deal with that feeling again.
Kevin Goering
On March 13, 1990, I came home from school and was frantically studying for the next day’s killer English test. My dad was outside doing chores when the radio mentioned a tornado warning for Harvey County. I went outside and was looking all around when I heard the the radio mention Hesston. I looked to the west and before long I could see a huge funnel cloud. At first I though it was pretty close, and I could see it getting bigger, so I yelled at Dad and he came running. We stood watching pieces, probably parts of houses and roofs, circling in the distance. Finally, it disappeared to the north.
Dad and I quickly finished chores because the electricity was off and it would be dark soon. Then we grabbed some tools and jumped in Dad’s old Chevy pickup to see if we could help. We started seeing debris about a mile out of town, but when we went underneath the interstate, it really hit me. Hesston had been hit hard; Sav-A-Trip was nonexistent. Pizza Hut was half gone. Trashed cars and rubble were everywhere.
Dad stopped the truck and we ran over to what was left of Sav-A-Trip. People weren’t sure if everyone was out of Sav-A-Trip, so Dad started digging through the remains. We talked briefly with some friends and strangers who were walking around in shock. As Dad and I walked back to the truck we accidentally walked in front of a television camera. Apparently the camera was on because a friend in Lindsborg recognized me.
Dad and I spent the next hour getting a generator for the Hesston Record office so that Hesston could have a paper the next day. Then, Brian Latta and I went over to the high school where we helped unload a thousand cases of bottled water from a semi. When we finally finished this it was about one o’clock in the morning, so I went home. Brian spent the night at our house because his was damaged.
On Wednesday it was off to work with chain saws and hammers. I spent most of the day pulling boards out of walls and roofs, and covering holes and broken windows. Brian’s house had a 2x4 hanging from the ceiling; however, the only holes in the roof were ten feet away. Our family also helped relatives salvage their furniture and personal belongings from their house that would have to be condemned.
I spent Thursday cleaning up Kropf Lumber. We dug through the remains of a
Kevin Goering
collapsed building, sorting out good windows, doors, trim, and siding. Dad spent the day running one of Kropfs forklifts loading salvaged materials. Brian took over a skid steer loader to load broken concrete blocks from a wall onto trucks. I found myself running a dump truck, picking up trash all over town, and hauling it to the dump.
I only played a small part in the cleanup of Hesston, Kansas, but I learned invaluable information doing it I discovered how helpful people can be in a time of need. I also learned how quickly material things can be wiped away, and consequently how hard it is to accept this. But most importantly, it’s good to know I made a difference.
Rob Good
I had been in Topeka since Sunday for Close-Up Kansas. I looked on the agenda Tuesday morning, and saw we were going to the capitol again, eating breakfast with our representative Ellen Samuelson, and eating supper at Furr’s Cafeteria. The day went on, and we were having a good time. We ate lunch at Burger King, and visited a pawn shop. After going around the capitol building the rest of the day, it was Anally time for supper.
We all got to Furr’s, and a couple of us had heard about tornado warnings in Harvey County. I thought that was pretty cool; it’s not too often something really big and exciting happens there, but I didn’t think much of it After a good meal, we all returned to the hotel. As we were about to go into the hotel, this guy called the Hesston people, all nine of us, to the side. We thought we were getting in trouble for hanging out of the window at night but the guy said Hesston had been hit by a tornado. I didn’t really think much of it though, and never realized exactly what happened in town. When I was seven or so I watched a tornado go right up the street so I figured it was something like that, since there was only minor damage in that one.
We went to a phone and called and called until we Anally got through to Joan Boyer. She started telling us about town. When Carl, our sponsor, asked about my house, he just repeated Joan’s answer with a blank stare, “It’s gone.”
I felt all the blood run from my body, and was shocked. How could a house we worked on for a couple of years just be gone? I didn’t really know what to do, so I tried to call my parents. Stupid me, if we don’t have a house, we don’t have a phone. Finally after a while I got through to a friend out of town. He said he didn’t know where my parents were, but he described the town to me. I couldn’t believe all the damage described. I tried to call other people later, and Anally tracked my mom and dad down about nine-thirty. They were definitely in a state of shock.
Rob Good
We stayed the night in Topeka and left early Wednesday morning. The whole ride home was quiet and solemn. As we approached town, we say Sav-A-Trip first, or what was left of it I felt my heart hit my feet, and saw before me the beginning of a lot of work.
With a lot of support and help from friends, and people I had never seen before, we managed to get it all done though, and come out okay.
Brad Homant
To: Sammy Marston (to read the day after your 17th birthday.
Last Tuesday was March 13, 1990. It was the day after my 17th birthday, March 12. That day will always be remembered by Hesston residents forever, because that was the day, at 5:37 p.m., a killer tornado ripped Hesston apart. It cleared everything in its path. It ripped houses into the air, it rolled cars and demolished businesses, but even worse that that, it shattered many people’s hopes and dreams.
Let me tell you my story, Sam. I was golfing on hole nine. They pulled us off the course and I came home. I got inside my house and mom called. Since she wasn’t home, she told me to go to your house. When I got over there everyone was scared, even me, but I really don’t think you were.
I stood by your kitchen table watching the tornado roll into town. Judy, Sarah, Jake and Jana were all yelling at me, but for some odd and stupid reason I just stood there looking outside. Jana and Sarah tried to make me come downstairs, but it didn’t work.
Suddenly I could tell it was about to hit Hesston. Everything started to swirl. It was pretty awesome looking. Then the wind really picked up. As the wind gained more and more velocity, my stomach churned faster and faster.
Then the tornado came. It got really dark and loud. Still standing by the window, I watched the K-State experimental field go up. Then things came roaring by the glass doors. Soon after that Sandra’s garage got sucked up. After I saw that, I went downstairs. With the windows shaking and the sound of Mother Nature yelling, I gave into my fear.
When I got downstairs you gave me the biggest grin I have ever seen. Your teeth were shining and your pox were glowing. By the time I got down there it was almost over. After it went we all came up and we were in shock.
Brad Homant
Our town, our town, it’s been demolished. Yes, Sam, by this time in your life you will have heard the story over and over. So I don’t need to tell you what happened, but I want to tell you this.
If you only learn one thing from me, don’t let it be how to shoot, run, or throw a football, let it be how to overcome adversity. Because life is like an obstacle course, and even the best of us trip and stumble to the ground. That is not the test, the test is getting back up and going on. This is what you need to learn to do in life.
So always remember this, Sammy Marston. All of these people who have been hit by the tornado must do this now, and someday you will have to stand up and overcome something, too. Remember this, for me, because I will always remember you, Sammy
Liz Horst
March 13, 1990, a day I will never forget I was in Topeka for Close-Up Kansas. We had just eaten supper at Furr’s Cafeteria and were returning to the Ramada Inn, where we were staying. One of the people who was in charge of Close-Up called Mr. Boyer aside and told the rest of us to wait. Amy, Lori, Nate, Greg, Rob, Kyle, Kelly and I were all there. We didn’t know what was going on. We thought we were in trouble and were going to get sent home (that was the punishment for breaking any rules). We didn’t know what we had done wrong, though. I’ll never forget the look on Mr. Boyer’s face when he came back. I saw a mixture of emotions in his eyes that make me scared and panicky. Then he told us that Hesston had just been hit by a tornado. For a minute we were in a state of shock and nobody said anything. We tried to calm our emotions by telling each other that we didn’t know anything about it yet, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Little did we know that the nightmare had only just begun.
As soon as we got inside, everyone tried to call home. All the lines were either jammed or busy so it was impossible to get through. Amy was crying really hard and Lori and I were so shocked we just stood there like zombies. Wendy Estes called the hotel and informed us that all of our families were okay, but we still didn’t know about our homes or everyone else in town. After what seemed like an eternity, Nate got through and was able to talk to his parents on the phone. Rob’s house was totally gone, and Lori’s was too, possibly. We couldn’t believe it and no matter how hard we tried to prepare ourselves for what we were soon to face, it was still the most horrifying thing I have ever witnessed.
We went up to Mr. Boyer’s room to watch the news. It’s hard to describe what I felt when I saw what was left of our town on TV. Everything was so awful, and from the way the newscaster sounded, our whole town had just been wiped out. It was so scary because we didn’t know what was really happening. After watching various news reports, we decided to go to bed and leave early the next morning.
The whole way back we were very quiet, listening to the radio and trying to prepare ourselves. We wanted to get home fast, yet at the same time, we dreaded the images that were about to become reality. As we drove down Lincoln Boulevard, the
Liz Horst
feeling in my stomach grew worse and worse.
The first thing we saw as we drove into town wasn’t the Pizza Hut or Sav-A-Trip, but huge piles of debris. The National Guard stopped us to check for I.D. and as we drove further into town it only got worse. By now tears were streaming down my face and a feeling of overwhelming tragedy had swallowed me up. I made it to my house and discovered that everything was just fine. Lori and I immediately went out to see what we could do and to find Melissa Davis, because her house was gone.
The rest of the week was spent working everywhere helping people clean up. I tried not to let the horrible thoughts get to me, but instead concentrated on the fact that no one was killed and that God would help us through this. I’m so thankful that everyone made it through alive but hope we will never have die chance to experience this kind of devastation again. Never!
Kurt Hostetler
Tuesday, March 13, 1990, was not a good day for Hesston. After tennis practice was cut short because of the strong winds, Mark Lakin and I were in the high school commons drinking pop. Ivy Schroeder came running in from the track saying that there was a tornado warning. Not thinking much about it, Mark and I went to the front of the school, where the trophy case is. We were both in a mood where everything seemed to be funny. We sat there against the case watching the clouds when the first siren wait off. Mark looked at me and without saying anything we took off for the locker room. Mark started to go into the locker room, but I told him that I wanted to see if there was a tornado, so he joined me. There were people standing out by the track locker room, so we went out to see what was going on. We then walked back to the high school to get our stuff and go home. We were trying to decide if we wanted to go to Mark’s house or mine to watch for a tornado. When we got to the car, we decided to go to my house because I had Trix and Mark only had Cheerios. We were leaving the parking lot when a song came on the radio that we wanted to listen to so we drove down Main Street, down to Hickory and over to College Drive. We saw people stopped by the dirt road leading out of town. We just thought that they were watching to see if there was any tornado; still we did not know that there really was a tornado. When we turned up College Drive, I looked to die southwest and saw it I pulled into the college industrial building to watch it It kept changing formations; first it was a big, thick cloud touching the ground; then it changed into somewhat of a traditional type of tornado. It kept coming closer, so we decided to go to Mark’s house to watch so we could get to cover faster.
We got to Mark’s, stopped the car out front and went around to the south side of his house to watch. Mark thought that he should get his brothers, thinking that it would be educational for them to see. Both Karl and Paul-and one of Paul’s friends came outside.
Kurt Hostetler
We were all standing around joking about stopping the tornado. We stood out and watched it until we could hear it and just before we went inside, it hit the experimental farm. When it did that, Mark and I looked at each other and said that was about long enough and headed downstairs.
In the basement, we watched the tornado through a window until the wind started blowing hard and rain started to hit the window. The five of us took cover in the laundry room. Paul and his friend got under a table, and Mark, Karl and I sat close by. We sat there listening to the wind through the pipes, not knowing how strong the wind really was. Mark lightened the mood by putting the flashlight in his mouth and making his cheeks glow. We sat there a few minutes after the wind died down. When we came out there was no wind and Mark locked upstairs and said, “We still have a roof.”
We all went upstairs to see what it was like. Mark locked out the window and I asked him what it locked like. He told us that it was a little wet on the ground. I didn’t think that the storm was that strong until we went outside and saw down the road that Sandra Garrett’s garage had collapsed and down farther that there were no houses anymore. That was when the shock hit and when I realized how bad die tornado really was. All five of us started down towards the cul-de-sac on Erb Street, when Mark’s mom came flying around the comer. She stopped the car, got out and gave Mark, Karl, and Paul a big hug. Her car window had been blown out and she got her feet cut up by the glass. She was still in shock but she got back into the car and went to their relatives’ apartments that had been destroyed by the tornado. Mark and I followed cm foot Their relatives were just coming out of the basement and were all okay. Mark and I met Tyler Estes, Brad Homant, and a few others. We talked about what had just happened, and that’s when we heard about Melissa Davis’s house and those out on the northeastern side of town. Mark and I went
Kurt Hostetler
over to Ivy Schroeder’s house, which had been leveled, to see if everyone was alright.
Mark thought that he’d better be getting home because he didn’t know how his mom was doing.
When we got to his house, lots of people were there. I tried to call home, but no one answered so I thought maybe I had better drive home to see what things were like.
Mark and Karl wanted to go with me and drive to the other side of town after I stopped at home. No one was there when I got home, so I figured that they were out looking at the damage. We drove down Main Street, but we had to turn because the road was blocked.
We took the access road to Chad Krehbiel’s road. When we drove by his house, Chad, Blake Jantz and Jon Funk were standing outside, and we stopped to talk to them. They all got into my little car because they had to go get Blake’s truck that was over by the elementary school. Before we went to his truck, we drove out by my brother’s apartment which is in the Lincoln Plaza apartments. We were leaving that area when we saw Lisa Pankratz and stopped to talk to her. She was over at one of her family’s friends house. I took Blake, Chad and Jon to Blake’s truck and then took Mark and Karl home.
When I got to Mark’s house, his mom told me that my mom had called and said that I was to go to my brother’s apartment I met my parents on the way there and talked to them. We loaded up my dad’s car with my brother’s personal things to take to our house. We left my car at home because it was almost out of gas. When we went back out to the apartments, I went to where Lisa was and stayed with her until her family left to go back to Newton. I returned and helped my parents clear out my toother’s place. Once when they took a load home, I went over to R. Jay Jantz’s house to see how he was doing. On the way back to the apartment, I saw some things of the Davis’s that had been blown into some bushes. Among these were some checks and pictures to Bob and Carol Davis. I laid these
Kurt Hostetler
together under something just enough so they could be seen but wouldn’t blow away. Seeing these things really hit home and it hurt
Back in my brother’s second-floor apartment, I stood in the back room and looked out the window. I could see right down the path of the tornado. It looked really awful. Then I started thinking about the people that had lost everything. It was hard to comprehend because the only thing that was hurt of my brother’s things was his stereo turntable which was hanging out the window. I spent the rest of the night cleaning out his belongings, not knowing if anyone was killed or badly injured.
Another thing on my mind was that neither of my brothers were back from work yet, and we hadn’t heard from them. They work together at King’s Construction and they were both out building a bridge in Windom, Kansas. But they came home about 11:00 or 11:30 p.m., which really took a load off of our minds.
The things that really stick in my mind in general are how strong the storm was and that we did not think that it was nearly that strong. Another thing is the horror that I felt when we came out of Mark’s house. It seemed like we were in a war zone. It must have been a miracle that no one from Hesston died. Now that I write this, the real shock is over, but when I think back to the night of March 13, 1990, I can still remember the weather after the storm and the feeling it gave me. I will never forget that feeling. I know that it will be a long, slow process to get things back to normal, if it can ever be normal again.
Blake Jantz
At about 5:10 pm on March 13, 1990, I was at Wen’s One getting a drink. I had just brought Eric Nachtigal back to Hesston to get his car. As I was paying for my drink I heard the first siren go off, so I got in my truck and went home. When I got home I took my brother and sister downstairs with a radio. For a while we listened to the radio, then I went upstairs and looked outside for a while to see if I could find the tornado. After being outside for a while I went back downstairs to check on my brother and sister. At this time the electricity went out so I went back upstairs to see if I could find the tornado this time. The DJ then announced that the tornado had just gone through the city diamond. Again I went up to find the tornado. I looked out the window toward town and I saw it - it was huge! Then I looked down the road and saw my mom driving up. I waited for her and then went downstairs because the tornado was getting near the interstate. After a few minutes I went upstairs to see if everything was alright Then I went up town to see if everyone I knew was alright, and then walked around town to see the damage.
Brad Klassen
On March 13, 1990, something happened that put the town of Hesston on the map, but it also almost took it right off the map. It had been a normal day at school, and I went to work at Maxwell Flowers in Newton, and then to work at Taco Tico.
While working at Tico, I got a phone call from El Dorado, where the head offices are, and they told us to take shelter in the bathroom. But I just had to go outside and watch it. So Kenny and I went up on Old 81 and sat in the ditch and saw it hit Hesston. This really didn’t have any effect on me because I don’t live in Hesston, but at approximately 5:37 pm, the town of Hesston was rocked. When the tornado hit, Newton was deathly quiet
After everything had blown over, we got another call and were told to close down early, since there was supposed to be another tornado coming back through Newton. After I was home for a while, we heard that the water was contaminated in Hesston, and I took some water up to some relatives who live by the college. We tried to get closer but the National Guard wouldn’t let us. The next day, we went out and helped Swartzendrubers clean up their farm, since they lost everything.
The next day, Bryon Wegerle and I went up to help Heidi McAnich clean up her grandmother’s home. We did get a kick out of cleaning out her freezer, because she had cake from six years ago and leftovers from a Long John Silva’s in Colorado. That afternoon, we watched the special about the tornado on KAKE-TV, "Two Hours of Terror.” I was going to come up Saturday, but unfortunately, I had to work. All in all, the town is looking better but this little town will never be the same.
Gretchen Klassen
At 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday March 13, 1990, my sister Kathy and I wait to Hair Designs to get our hair cut. It was cloudy and very windy but that was not unusual, since it is always bad weather when we go to Hair Designs. Halfway through Kathy’s haircut the whistle went off. Thinking it might be some sort of waning, we looked outside but we could not see anything unusual. So everybody continued what they had been doing. The whistle went off again about 12 minutes later but this was also ignored. But for some reason one of the hairdressers stepped outside. When she came back in she calmly advised us that we should go across the street to their friend Claire’s house because there actually was a tornado right in back of the shop. As I was sitting in Claire’s basement with twelve other people, two of whom were hysterical children, I thought the tornado would never come this way but veer off. But, I did not have to wait long to find out how wrong I was. After sitting there for five minutes I heard a loud roar coming closer and closer. Suddenly it was right on top of us, crashing into the house with a mighty force. After what seemed like forever, there was a vast silence. I did not know what I was going to wee when I got out of the basement, but it was worse than I ever thought. It was when I stepped outside that it finally hit me that there really was a tornado that went through Hesston. All the houses and businesses were in shambles and the owners of these places were milling around shaking their heads in disbelief. After standing there for a few minutes, talking with some of the people around that we knew, Kathy and I started walking home. I kind of had a idea that our house was still intact, but there were still anxious moments until I saw that it was still It seemed like it got dark quickly that evening, and with no flashlight or candles
handy we all decided to go to bed early. I was no longer tense since the danger was past, or so I thought. The next thing I knew, a man from the fire department was at our door telling Kathy that it would be best if we all slept downstairs because another tornado could come
Gretchen Klassen
through. That really got me, and the rest of the night I could not sleep at all. That was the longest night in my life. I have never been so glad to see morning.

Brad Koehn
March 13, 1990, was a somewhat abnormal day. I went to school and track practice just as usual, but the weather was so beautiful that I couldn’t concentrate. At about 5:00 p.m. my track coach sent everyone home because there was a tornado warning for our area. The weather still didn’t look very threatening so I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get home. I acted calm on the outside, but I had a strange feeling that something was going to happen.
When I reached home the weather was becoming more and more threatening and dark but it was unusually calm. I got out my binoculars to look further in the east because I still felt uncomfortable. At about 5:30 p.m., the clouds began getting darker and darker. A
few minutes later they began moving swiftly in all directions and I could see the shape of a huge tornado over Hess ton directly east of my house. I quickly went to the basement and discovered that the electricity had gone off. I watched the tornado from a window in my room, and the day seemed to quickly turn to night as the tornado neared my home. I couldn’t tell exactly how close the tornado was, but I knew I should get to safety. As I sat in my basement, I awaited the sound of breaking glass and falling walls. All that came were a few small objects that were thrown against our house, and then a dead silence fell upon my ears. It was quickly broken by the sound of police cars and fire trucks.
At first I didn’t know the extent of the damage in town, but I received more and more information from phone calls and the radio. Later that evening when I went into town, I was shocked by the damage and destruction I saw. I knew that Hesston would never be the same, and every time a storm came they would be reminded of the tornado
that came without warning and robbed families and businesses of everything they owned.
The next day I helped clean up and salvage what had been left behind, and my mind kept asking the question: Why?
Renee Kratky
On Match 13, 1990, a huge tornado hit the small town of Hesston. I never found out until about 6:30 that a tornado went through Hesston at 3:37 p.m. and destroyed most of the town. I was at Lyons, Kansas, playing in the CKL Honor Band. After we played and were critiqued, Vern, our band teacher, took us to another room and told us Hesston had been hit by a tornado. Right away, we all started crying and wanted to go home, we ended up going straight home - straight into the second tornado. We never saw the tornado until after die rain and hail had hit us, and everything got calm. The radio told us all the warnings of tornadoes around us and what to do if in danger, go to your basement, take off your golf shoes, stay out of vehicles, or go to a ditch.
When we finally saw the tornado, everyone started screaming and yelling trying to get the bus driver to stop and let us go to the ditch. After the bus stopped, Bryon Wegerle palled the emergency window down and went out the window, head first, followed quickly by me and Denae Hoheisel. We ran to the muddy, wet ditch and fell to the ground. The tornado was tall and skinny and moved slowly over a farm house, moving away from us. Vern finally said, “I think we can beat it, get in the bus!” Everyone ran to the bus and the bus took off leaving Vern, a t-shirt, a lunch ticket, Mike Dreier’s glasses, and my lip stick behind. We stopped for Vern but the other valuables were left behind to rot away in the muddy, wet ditch.
Riding the rest of the way home was the scariest time of my life. “What if the tornado had hit Hesston hard and nothing was left,” was the thought running through my mind the whole way home. When we arrived at the Hesston exit no one realized that this was our home, Hesston. The guard at the exit wouldn’t let us through without having to call us in, and make sure we were expected. Arriving at the high school was the greatest relief to most of us, but we still couldn’t go home. We had to sit around in the school and wait for our parents to come and get us. The wait was long, but getting on television took care of most of my problems. My dad finally came and got me from the school, but we couldn’t leave until die roads were clean of debris.
After getting home and finding out everyone and everything was okay, the fear

Renee Kratky
was over. Denae, my best friend, didn’t get through the tornado as well as I did. Her house ended up having to be bulldozed down, and her life at home would have to be started all over again. The fear of the tornado is gone but the work of rebuilding the small town of Hesston has only just begun.
Teri Krehbiel
Directly after the 3:15 bell rang, I headed straight home. Mom and dad left early that morning to go to Texas, so my brother and I were alone. At about 4:30 the warnings started flooding in on the television. I was studying for my American History test and wasn’t paying much attention, until I heard that Hesston was one of its main targets. I ran out to my brother who was working in the shop. We looked directly west and then northwest into town. We didn’t see a thing and thought that it was already north of us. Rusty told me to go back in and keep a watch out and if it got any worse he would close up the shop and come in. After watching a couple of seconds of television and hearing again that it was coming, I ran back outside. Russ was ranting and raving about how he had seen a small tornado start and then dissipate right over his head. He thought it was cool! What a dumb thing to think, huh! I told him again about the warnings and we continued to look around for it We started to shift and lock more to the southwest and lo and behold there it was. It was so big, I couldn’t even believe it. The neighbors (the Isaacs) and us watched it move rapidly north. I felt like I had to do something, but I didn’t know what
We quickly got into a car and sat at the edge of our driveway. We watched as it roared through over our little town and turned places into what seemed like a junkyard. As we were sitting in our driveway a cop came storming down Old 81 going about 100 m.p.h. and right then we knew Hesston had gotten hit pretty bad. We followed it all the way into what used to be the Mini Mall by the city ball diamond. Everything was such a mess. I started to hear names of people’s houses that were gone. I was hysterical and couldn’t believe what my eyes were showing me. I ran and embraced many people, but I still couldn’t get over the shock of the whole event
After walking through most of town and seeing almost all of the devastation that had occurred, I felt terrible. We left town at about 6:30 and headed home. We were only home long enough to get out some candles, when Mark Isaacs came running over and said we had to leave again, because another tornado was sighted near Hesston. We stayed until about 8:00 when we decided the weather had cleared up enough so that we could go home.
At approximately 9:30, a Mend from Wichita invited us to come and stay the night with than. All night I was worried about the people still missing and felt helpless that I couldn’t do anything about it After working through my feelings during that long, sleepless night I came back to Hesston refreshed and ready to get to work. I will never, ever, forget what happened on March 13, 1990, and all the emotions that went along with it
Mark Lakin
Due to the windiness of the day, tennis practice came to a rather abrupt halt. At the time the wind was nothing to worry about and I thought nothing of it. Little did I know, however, that the next couple of hours would change my perspective on how Mother Nature operated.
Kurt Hostetler and I were in the foyer of the high school when the first siren went off. Without speaking, we sprang to our feet and took off running for the boy’s locker room and safety. After seeing Mr. Zuercher, our English teacher, walk out the door to see what was happening, Kurt and I decided we would follow and take a look We stood outside for a while just looking at the black clouds on the horizon. We went on with our business, making jokes as if nothing would happen. We then went driving around by the college and stopped at the Laban Peachey Building to see if anything had materialized. What we saw was a huge wall of black clouds sweeping unrestrained across the open plains. Kurt thought we should leave or at least be somewhere close to shelter so I said we could watch from my house.
When we got to my house I went inside and told my brothers Karl and Paul, and Paul’s Mend Steve O’Halloran, to come outside. I told them it would be a very educational experience, and it was. We stood outside and watched and talked until suddenly the wind died down. I turned to Kurt and told him that this was the time when tornadoes were supposed to hit The wind started to swirl and I became a little uneasy. I decided it was time to go to the basement. The tornado was probably a little over a mile away when we went to the basement but it sure didn’t take long to go that mile.
At the time we were in the basement with a flashlight telling jokes to keep the
Mark Lakin
mood light We had no idea what was happening outside, we just did what we were taught to do. About five minutes later, Kurt and I walked up the stairs to check for any damage. I looked outside and Kurt asked if it looked pretty bad. Down the block a garage was collapsed and that looked pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to what I saw when we went outside and started walking toward the next block. What used to be a nice neighborhood was now crushed pieces of debris scattered across the ground. I found my relatives coming up from the basement in what was left of their apartment. I tried to comfort my little cousin and other people I knew around but there was not much I could do or say to make things better. As I looked around at what was left of the neighborhood I realized this was something I would remember forever.
Kelly Leinbach
On Monday, March 12, 1990, I was in Topeka, Kansas, at the Close-Up Kansas ordeal. That night, about 15-20 kids were hanging out of their bedroom windows around 11:30. Although it was sprinkling, many of them were throwing ice cubes and waste baskets full of water out the window and at each other. The Ramada Inn security finally came around after some people complained in the lower rooms and they told us to get back in our rooms and to shut the window.
During the following day, Mr. Boyer had commented to me, “We’re in a tornado warning right now.” I jokingly replied, “Oh, does that mean we get to go back to our rooms?” Boyer said, “No, I mean in Hesston.” I didn’t think much of it at the time.
It was about 6:30 or 7:00 the next night, when we arrived back at the motel from Furr’s Cafeteria. A man outside the door asked everybody from Hesston to come over to him. We all gathered around, and he and Mr. Boyer went inside the door to have a little discussion. Outside, Amy Patton, Liz Horst, Lori Claassen, Rob Good, Nate Osborne, Greg Sawin, Kyle Arnold and I figured, well, now we’re going to get kicked out because of the happenings from the previous night. Within a couple of minutes, the two men walked out and Mr. Boyer said with a staggering voice, “Kids, Hesston has been hit by a tornado.” I was thinking, “Oh, my God, my parents are dead, and my dog and house are gone.” Well, from then on, I began thinking the worst thoughts that I could imagine would have happened to them.
We began watching the TV and trying to reach our parents. It took me awhile before I even tried to reach them because I didn’t think I could handle it if I did. Soon, we decided to come home the next morning at 6:00.
When we arrived at Hesston around 9:00, we were all in some state of shock. I got home and was very glad to be there. I looked around to see what had happened to our
Kelly Leinbach
house and then looked across the street to find that that house had lost its roof. At that time, we didn’t have any electricity.
I was still in shock, so I stayed inside and watched the people clean up around our neighbors. Most of the people I saw were those that I had never seen before. Dump trucks were from towns all over the state and I found out later that most of the people were, too.
Well, on Thursday, I got out to help myself. I went over to my uncle’s place, Paul’s Inc., and helped put trash in the dump trucks. This helped me to forget what was on my mind, and gave me a sense of accomplishment. The day drew to an end, and I knew the tomorrow would be a lot of the same thing all over town.
Jay Marcotte
On the afternoon of March 13, 1990, at about 4:45I laid down on the couch and took a nap. Then all of a sudden my mom came rushing in through the door in a frenzy and said, “Don’t you all know that we are in a tornado warning?” We replied, “YES.” Then she just about lost it at that time and said, “Come outside and you can see it!”
For about ten minutes, we stood there watching this massively awesome tornado go roaring by. We figured it was at least five miles away from us. So we ran inside to listen to KFDI and the TV to find out more about the tornado. Within a little bit, they said that the tornado hit Hesston and at that time my mom really was worried. She kept saying, “I hope no one got hurt.”
From then on we sat listening to the TV and periodically went outside to see if we could see another tornado, but we didn’t
For myself, I had no worries, because I knew we could get to safe shelter in no time and I just had a feeling it wasn't going to come after us.
Jeff Morris
March 13 - a day that will live in infamy. It was 6:00 in the evening and the band was in Lyons for a music competition. We had just finished playing and we were about to eat dinner what we heard about the disturbing news. We were told that our little town of Hesston was hit by one of the biggest tornadoes in the history of this state. We loaded the buses and left with haste. Coming home, everyone was petrified. The sirens on the radio were blaring all the way home. All the girls were freaking out and all the guys were trying to comfort them.
All of a sudden it became pitch black. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We had been told that the tornado had hit the Pizza Hut, Sav-a-Trip, and many other businesses in the Hesston area, and it was not a pretty sight Looking out the window on the right-hand side of the road, there it was in its entirety, the tornado that had demolished our little town. The bus stopped and we all got out into a muddy, wet ditch. The tornado took a turn for the worst and was headed right toward us. We then got on the bus and left in a hurry, almost leaving two people.
On the bus, we stopped at the town of Moundridge. We tried to hail a cop, but he wouldn’t stop. One person even tried to jump out of die bus and get the cop’s attention. Wet and scared, we came into town and all we could see was what was left of the Sav-a-Trip sign.
On to the high school, it was frantic. Mr. Price, the superintendent, was directing traffic like a street cop. I was let go and I wait home very quickly. I changed and went back to the high school to see what I could do to help. I was told to help set up cots and to help comfort people. After that I went home for a not-so-pleasant night’s sleep. The destructive power of a tornado will never be taken for granted by anyone in this town again
Nathan Osborne
On March 13, 1990, I was in Topeka participating in Close-Up Kansas, a four day program for high school students interested in government. As we returned to our hotel from the State Judiciary Building, a man pulled our sponsor to the side and spoke to him.
All eight of us from Hesston got worried because we thought we had done something wrong, and were getting in trouble for it Then our sponsor, Carl Boyer, came back and told us that Hesston had been hit by a tornado. We were again worried, but for a much different reason. Since we didn’t know how bad our hometown was damaged, we immediately headed for the phones to try to call our families. The phone lines to Hesston were almost always busy, but with some persistence we eventually got through.
We then pieced all our stories together and realized that Hesston was hit pretty hard. Rob Good found out that his house was gone, which didn’t seem to sink in to us at the time since we were perfectly safe there in the hotel. We knew that all our families were okay, but we still didn’t know very many details about the storm. So, planting ourselves in front of the TV, we impatiently watched canned-laughter sit-coms, waiting for a news update between shows. Every half-hour the Topeka channels reported about the damage in Hesston, occasionally giving us a glimpse of the destruction in the background.
We decided to spend the night in Topeka and leave early the next morning. After a few hours of sleep that night, we headed home, listening to KFDI, which was broadcasting live from Hesston. As we passed Goessel, down K-15, I kept looking for twisted tree tops, but I couldn’t see any. Then, to my surprise, I saw a whole row of trees, not with twisted tops, but completely flattened by the storm.
When we drove into Hesston, the amount of debris everywhere amazed me. I couldn’t believe that wind could cause so much damage in a few seconds. Although the girls in the van were crying, I didn’t really feel sad. I was too overwhelmed by the amount
Nathan Osborne
of destruction that our little town had received. It looked like downtown Beirut after some heavy fighting. Houses were flattened, cars everywhere showed evidence of being tossed around like leaves, and there was a trail of debris as far as you could see. The incredible power that the tornado possessed truly defined the word “awesome.”
Amy Patton
When the tornado struck I was in Topeka on a field trip with seven other juniors and our sponsor, Carl Boyer.
Attending Close-Up Kansas was supposed to be an exciting, educational experience, as well as a great way to miss school, but the fun we had will always be overshadowed by the news of the tornado that hit on Tuesday, March 13,1990.
Tuesday afternoon, the eight of us that were in Topeka were touring the capitol building, and two people from other schools approached me on separate occasions to tell me there had been tornado warnings in Hesston. I wasn’t the least bit concerned and forgot about it quickly.
That evening we went out to eat, and when the bus dropped us off at the hotel, one of the Close-Up Kansas administrators told us to wait outside the hotel doors while he spoke to Mr. Boyer. Immediately, Lori and I thought we were going to get sent home because we were in trouble for yelling out the hotel windows the night before. Instead Mr. Boyer informed us that Hesston had been hit by a tornado.
We went into the hotel to find a telephone and television, but all the phone lines were out in Hesston. Finally, Wendy Estes, the principal’s wife, reached us at the hotel to tell us that all our family members were uninjured, but we learned that Rob Good, who was there at Topeka, had lost his house.
I walked through the hallways of the hotel sobbing for fear or more bad news, and perfect strangers gave me their sympathy. We sat in front of the television for hours that night at the hotel, listening to any news we could hear about the damage in Hesston.
I made over 20 phone calls from the hotel to every telephone number I knew in Hesston in hope that a few phone lines would be repaired. However, I soon found out that it was a useless process, as even the lines in Newton and Hillsboro were out Finally, late that light I reached my mom on the phone and I cried even harder when she told me of the damage the tornado had caused to our town.
For fear that the storm was still too strong, we knew that we couldn’t drive back to Hesston that night, so we got packed up and went to sleep. We awakened early the next
Amy Patton
morning and left at 6:00 to return home.
The drive home seemed endless and the radio constantly reported more about the tornado’s destruction. However, no TV report or radio broadcast could have accurately depicted the scene when we returned.
Although I’ve heard the word a thousand times too many, the word ‘devastation’ is the only way to describe the situation.
Kieran Ratzlaff
It must have been a little after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, 1990. I was by myself at home and looked outside the kitchen window. It was very cloudy and there was lightning and thunder outside. I saw the clothes out on the line in the backyard, so I went out to bring them in. I remember the instant I stepped outside, I smelled the air. It was damp and fresh, like the smell just after a hard rain, or in this case, just before. Then I looked up at the clouds colored gold and orange, gradually getting darker to the southwest where the storm was. As I was nearly finished taking all the jeans off the line, the siren went off. I didn’t really think much of it then, just that the coming storm must be big for the siren to blow. So I brought the clothes I had so far and went inside. As I went into the living room, I caught a glimpse of the news on TV. On the screen was a radar picture and I heard that there was a tornado warning until 5:30. I turned around to look out the living room window and saw the neighbors across the street running to our next-door neighbor Leo Willems’ to take shelter in his basement, since they didn’t have one. That is when I figured this must be serious.
I ran to Leo’s house, too, forgetting about the rest of the clothes on the line and leaving the TV and lights on. I was welcomed by Edna, Leo’s wife, and told to go downstairs. I joined the neighbors already there, most of whom I didn’t know - a couple with a two-year old boy and also a woman sitting on the couch. Leo came down then and we all waited for several minutes as the others talked among themselves. After a while, another woman came down. Every once in a while, Leo went upstairs to look outside while Edna begged him to come downstairs where it was safe. She said that he always did that during every storm. All this time, I was wondering where my mom was and hoping she wasn’t out on the highway, and then she came down, too. Then we all watched the television, when a voice broke in and said the tornado was one mile south and two miles west of Hesston.
Kieran Ratzlaff
That’s when I started getting scared. I thought, “Could it actually go through Hesston? Minutes from now, will there be a house above us?” As I wondered about these things, the power went out Leo went to the next room in the basement and looked out the small window in there.
“It’s coming right for us!” he said, and ran back into the room where the rest of us were. Everyone crouched down on the floor and covered their heads and moments later, the wind picked up. I had a pillow ready in my clutches to cover my head with in case things started to fly around. There was a rush of wind, but it wasn’t really very loud. I thought it would be much worse, but there was just a low roar as it passed by. I remember praying for our house not to get hit
“It’s over,” said Leo, and we started up the stairs to look outside. As everyone crowded around the front door, we saw the tornado as it was leaving. It must have been around the Pizza Hut and Sav-A-Trip when I saw it. It was the first tornado I’ve ever seen in my life. It didn’t look much like the ones I’ve seen on TV; it was so wide. At times, I could make out the funnel inside the column of dust and debris, but mostly it looked like a wide dark haze going down to the ground. I never saw the bottom where it touched the ground since the house across the street was in the way. After getting over the initial scare, we went outside, where it looked like there was hardly any damage, just a lot of broken sticks and twigs on the ground. I remember thinking, ‘That’s it? That wasn’t so bad after all.” I was proved wrong as I went out in the street and could look all the way down.
I could make out some damage further south, and a fire truck was down there, too. After going to our house and seeing that everything was okay, my mom and I walked south down Weaver Street, and we couldn’t believe what we saw. It was worse than I imagined. I had no idea houses just a block or two were so damaged or even destroyed. I felt very
Kieran Ratzlaff
lucky and grateful our house was spared. Then we walked down Main Street and saw even worse damage there. Mom was worried about our Mustang that was sitting out at the auto shop downtown, and so we went to check on it. The windshield was cracked and the window on the passenger’s side was totally smashed out and glass fragments were all over in the car. It was shocking at first, but I knew it could be a lot worse.
Walking along and seeing cars totally smashed up and houses destroyed started to make me feel guilty that our house survived and our car wasn’t totalled, but what could I do about it? I’m just glad we still have our home. Later I found out that the tornado veered off shortly before it would have hit our house. If the path had been one block north of where it was, our house would probably be gone. Maybe my last-second prayers were answered after all.
Cristy Rodgers
5:00 p.m. Tuesday, March 13,1990. In the distance, storm sirens can be heard blaring tornado warnings to our small town of Hesston. But having grown up in Kansas, I knew the possibility of a tornado was nothing new, and the thought - nothing to be shaken by. Little did I know that before the evening twilight, that I was going to be shaken worse than I ever had before.
5:10 p.m. Schowalter Villa. Beginning supper trayline while the sirens sound, our evening crew decides to ignore them, believing it’s just another of our famous false alarms. Then the director of nursing announces over the intercom system, “Please take immediate cover, a tornado is headed directly towards us.” Rushing to close curtains and turn off electrical appliances, I grab two flashlights and head for the door. At the door, the weirdest thought occurs to me, “What if I die, how will they know it’s me?” In a split second, I dash back to the break room and put on my class ring and gather up all my ID.
5:33 p.m. In motion to the basement. On the way to the basement there are several people gazing out of the big picture window to the west. I look out and see the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen in my life and to this sight nothing will ever compare. Here, only blocks away is an enormous black, swirling cloud. As I watch in awe, television reports of different tornadoes flash through my mind. Those “funnel clouds” are nothing like the one before me. It is huge and rotating furiously towards Hesston, the Villa and me. It’s so close now I can actually see debris circulating in and flying out of it
5:37 p.m. In the Villa basement The tornado passes over us and the sound is like none I’ve heard before; similar to a thousand locomotives raging by at once. With the danger gone, I surface from the basement wondering if anything is left. Looking out of the same window, I see very minor damage done to the Villa. There are shingles and various other debris in awkward places, but nothing looks hurt Immediately returning to the
Cristy Rodgers
kitchen I phone my parents to tell them I’m okay. I learn now that the Pizza Hut and Sav-a-Trip are gone. I now try Andrea Dreier and Celide Schmidt’s houses, since they are right in that area. Chel’s phone rings and rings but no answer. I finally contact Andrea, the tornado just missed them giving minor damages to their house. I try to calm her down but she won’t let me, and terror squeezes my heart I hang up, and reality begins to sink in.
9:00 p.m. After work. Working two-and-a-half hours overtime, I drag myself to the car and head across town to Chel’s. Driving down Main, there are no street lights except for the headlights of oncoming cars. Farther down, the street is carpeted with pieces of wood and glass that were once people’s homes. I’m stopped by a cop and told that everyone in Chel’s neighborhood has been evacuated, and is okay. I make my way home, the shock of it all surfacing, tears running down my face and shivers running through my body. My town has been destroyed and nothing I can ever do can change it
Michelle Roth
While working out my accounting questions on the couch, I noticed the television screen turn gray accompanied by a voice over the speaker. The voice seemed somewhat distressed as it warned of the tornado that was coming toward Hesston. I knew this seemed a bit strange because I’d never seen anything like this happen. Usually Jim O’Donnell from KAKE comes on and gives a tornado watch, but this seemed so personal and so real (looking back on it, that is). At the time however, it seemed like a big joke. By now, Kansas dwellers are so prone to going to the basement when bad weather strikes, it almost seems routine. After sitting downstairs for a while, my parents went upstairs to check it out Some time passed, and I went upstairs also. When I got upstairs, all three of us walked to our large family room window and saw this gigantic black funnel cloud, what looked like about a half of a mile away. My parents thought it was hitting Amy Patton’s area. It looked like it could turn around any minute and come toward us, so I had one foot headed towards the basement. It was enormous and I could see pieces of wood flying through the air. My mom just stood there saying, “Oh, those poor people.” I remember wondering why she was so upset I just thought it was taking off some shingles. I was very naive about the capability of its destruction. My mother began to panic, thinking it probably touched down at my grandparent’s house. We first checked the college and it was all right, so mom knew my older brother, Jeff, was okay. By now we saw that the area in which my grandparents live was unharmed. When rounding the comer of Park Road, we noticed the damage that had been done on Meadow Lane. I stood in shock as I stared at the demolished homes. When reality struck, I remembered that Melissa Davis had a home on that street. I screamed, “Melissa,” and so did my mom. We both began running down the street screaming, “Melissa!” We probably looked quite foolish, especially me, because I didn’t have any shoes on. Mom told me before we left that we wouldn’t be getting out of
Michelle Roth
the truck. Obviously, she was wrong. I was running down the street with my soppy, muddy socks that were hanging half off my feet and I was screaming at mom because I couldn’t keep up with her. But at the time, I didn’t care what I looked like. I was just happy to know that Melissa and her family were safe! Nothing else seemed to matter.

Greg Sawin
Dear Future,
I am here trying to recall my feeling at the time of the Great Hesston Tornado. It devastated the lives of Hesstonians for years to come. On March 13,1990, at 5:37 pm, it hit.
I was in Topeka at Close-Up Kansas, a field trip to discover Kansas politics. The day had been spent mulling around the capitol. I had been sitting in on committee meeting senate and house hearings, and listening to other governmental gab.
Our group returned from a day at the capitol after supper. As we exited the bus at the hotel, one of the supervisors was gathering all the Hesston people together. I figured that someone had gotten into trouble and that we were being sent home. I was wrong.
The news was worse, much worse. Our leader, Carl Boyer, returned with a solemn expression on his face. He calmly gave us the news that Hesston had been hit by a tornado, “Wow,” I thought. I had always heard about tornadoes. I had been taken to the basement many times as a child during warnings; however, this one was different. This time it was not just a warning, it was real.
The strange part of the situation was that this news didn’t shock me with a dagger stabbing through my emotions. This lack of sorrow almost made me feel cold and guilty. I stood strong while people around me began to cry. I wished I would cry.
Throughout the evening we gained more knowledge about the situation. We were told that all of our families were safe and sound. We also received mixed stories on whose houses had been destroyed or damaged. My house was unharmed. One of my fellow students who was also on the trip was not so lucky. Rob Good’s newly-built house was destroyed.
I was confused with my emotions. I figured that I would bust out with feelings at
Greg Sawin
the sight of my shattered town. Again, I was wrong. I didn’t feel it. Was I inhuman, or simply unemotional? The sights of the destruction just made me think, “Well, where do we start, we have got to get this place cleaned up and back on its feet.” A sad emotion never touched me.
A feeling of guilt hit me next. My beautiful house was left untouched. Only a piece of tin in my yard. That was our damage; yet others were left homeless.
One confusing thought I had was a question for God. Why? Later I accepted the fact that the storm was an act of nature, not an act of God. The acts of God came mostly after the tornado during the clean-up, although there were a few miraculous stories of people claiming to have been guided to safety by the Lord during the storm.
God’s face glowed throughout the tom town of Hesston in the following days and weeks. The clean-up was phenomenal. There were people here to help from all over the United States and from all walks of life.
This tornado left a scar in the town of Hesston. It burrowed deep into the memories of all that it touched. This event will be long to be forgotten.
Celide Schmidt
On March 13, 1990, a tornado hit the town of Hesston at 5:37 p.m. I was watching T.V. when the warning was issued for Harvey County. I grabbed my cat and went to the basement The warning was issued only until 5:30 p.m., so I was going upstairs then. However, all at once the electricty went out. I sat there in the quiet, dark basement for a second to collect my thoughts. I couldn’t remember where the rest of my family member were supposed to be. Then I heard it the tornado, like a train roaring over my house.
The sun was out and so were my neighbors. I couldn’t see any real damage, but my house was fine. Then my mom came home. She had been at the beauty shop. I could tell she was in shock because she often gets that way in stressful situations. I had to go and get all my tapes out of my car, plus my driver’s license. Since I was on Main Street, I saw a lot of damage; it was devastating.
Mom and I got home and waited for my dad to get home with my brothers. When they got home and our family was all together we headed to Newton to call family. We ate supper and headed home. We went to bed knowing that when daytime came, our town
would be in serious devastation.
Jason Stansbury
On March 13, 1990, one of the worst disasters in Kansas history struck the little town of Hesston in the form of a huge tornado. I didn’t get the chance to experience this awesome power of nature for I was at a band concert in Lyons, a town northwest of Hesston.
We had just finished playing and endured the critique of the guest conductor when our band director, Vern Dreier, motioned us over to the commons and told us Hesston had just been hit with a tornado. Soon after that announcement, we were on our way back to Hesston to be with our families. The ride back turned out to be quite interesting in itself.
By the time we got to McPherson, the sky was black and threatening. Tornado warnings and safety tips were being broadcast over the radio. Several girls reacted hysterically every time something was mentioned over the radio about Hesston. I think it was understandable to be worried and perhaps crying, but the shrill, high-decible screams were very bothersome to me. I was surprised that Ray Ediger, our bus driver, didn’t wreck due to the screaming and adverse driving conditions. When we neared Elyria on old 81, things began to really happen. We were scanning the clouds when Tom Unruh yelled that he saw a tornado. So we evacuated the bus and headed for the muddy ditches to safety. We laid there for about five to ten minutes watching the tornado in awe and hoping it wouldn’t turn towards us. After Mr. Dreier decided it was safe, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Hesston.
When we got close to Hesston, we could see something was definitely wrong.
Usually one is greeted with a brightly lit town, but we entered a dark unrecognizable place. After getting clearance from the guards we headed for the school where I was greeted by my parents and brothers and friends who needed a place to stay for awhile. We then
Jason Stansbury
returned to our untouched home, leaving that night the rubbish that once was homes of many of our friends.
The next few days were spent cleaning and helping those who were less fortunate than myself. After a week, the town is much cleaner, but there are so many empty spots that once were filled with businesses and homes. I can be sure that one dreadful day when the tornado struck Hesston will remain in my memory for the rest of my life.
Tammie Stone
March 13, 1990, had been a windy, dreary day. I was sitting on the couch at home by myself, studying my American History. It was still windy outside and I kept hearing things. I decided to turn on the radio to KFDI and listen to the news. They were saying that a tornado had touched down near Burrton and were telling which direction it was going. It sounded like it was headed our way. Mom and Dad finally got home at about 5:25. They had taken two ewes to Moundridge. They were on Ridge Road when they saw it coming. Mom asked dad after they had looked at each other, “Can’t this thing go any faster?” Dad said, “I’ve got it clear to the floor.” After we saw it was going to miss us, we quickly got our jackets on and grabbed the camera and went out north of the big machine shed and watched it demolish part of Hesston. Then we went inside and put batteries in the radio because the electricity had gone out by then. All we could do was listen because we knew they wouldn’t need or want tourists in Hesston. We heard on the radio that they had people, police and others, set up at the entrances to town and people could only get in if they lived there. We kept sitting and listening. Dad and I finished up doing the chores. We came in, ate supper by kerosene lamp light, kept listening to the radio and heard that there had been a fatality east of Goessel. Mom’s whole family lives five miles east, but they didn’t say how far east. Mom was getting worried, to say the least. Finally, at 9:15, we decided to go to my grandma’s in Newton and call mom’s family and my sister Debbie from there because we couldn’t get through from home. We finally got ahold of them through the operator, and Debbie in Florida that way as well. Mom’s family were all okay, but Debbie was very shocked when we told her. We watched the news at Grammy’s apartment and then went home. We got caught in a hail storm on the way. When we got home, our electricity had already come back on. We watched more of the news and got a phone call from Nebraska and one from Oklahoma. We finally got to bed around 12:00
Tammie Stone
The next morning I went into town. I walked around and talked to some of my friends who were affected. I looked at things in awe all day; I couldn’t believe the destruction. I helped a little, but I had forgotten my gloves, so I couldn’t do too much.
The next time I helped was Saturday afternoon on a farm one mile west of Hesston. Mom and I picked up tiny pieces of shingles out of a cow corral all afternoon.
Sunday at church was not a regular service. We spent most of the time sharing stories, feelings, concerns, and things about the tornado. There were many, many tears shed, and feelings and emotions expressed through hugs. KAKE-TV News was there taping part of the service.
Finally, Wednesday, when we went back to school for the first time in a week, all we did was talk about the tornado and write a paper about it for English class.
This tornado hitting has been interesting, scary, emotionally draining, and hard to comprehend.
Brian Unruh
“Sixteen out of twenty-five. I gotta do better than that”
I was thinking about the free throws I was practicing at Yost Center on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 13, 1990. The clock showed 4:45, and I decided that I needed to go home soon. Then, a loud siren blasted throughout the town and the gym, prompting me to go outside. I couldn’t see a tornado in all the clouds that littered the sky so I figured they might just be testing the sirens. I shot a few more free throws and then decided, just to be safe, that I’d better drive home.
I entered our empty house thinking about my parents who were at Halstead Hospital visiting my grandpa. Then, the siren started roaring again. At this moment, my brother Brad walked in the house after getting home from golf practice. Together, we stood looking out our patio windows to the southwest. A black and evil-looking tornado was visible, and heading straight for our house! I stared in amazement at the twisting funnel for about thirty seconds. Then, when I saw a roof jump in the air near the tornado, Brad and I rushed to the basement. In my mind I thought, “This is not good.”
The tornado passed near our house and sounded just like a giant vacuum. The only concern in my mind was the safety of my brother and my parents. When I decided it was safe to go outside, I told Brad, “I’m going to Jim’s (my parents best friends) to see if they’re okay.” He came with me, and as we turned the comer, my mind slipped out of reality when I saw the remains of the houses on Meadow Lane. I turned to the right and saw what was left of Jim’s house, and then I saw Jim’s wife Mary and eight-year old daughter Tina.
Tina ran up to me and I lifted her up in my arms. I looked in her eyes and saw the tears which indicated to me that their house had sustained heavy damage. “My room is a
Brian Unruh
mess, Bri...my whole house is a mess,” she cried in a voice overwhelmed with fear. I approached the Regier’s house and explained to Mary when my parents were. With all chaos going on around me, my main concern still remained with my parents, whose fate I wasn’t sure of.
Much to my surprise, Jim’s phone still worked. I tried countless times to call Halstead Hospital without any luck. I finally gave up and helped Jim and Mary clean up the thick debris in their home. At about ten o’clock that night I heard Mary talking to a shaky, unfamiliar voice. I brought the furniture I was carrying to the living room to see with whom Mary was talking. When I looked up, I breathed a sigh of relief. My parents had found us, and they were safe. At that moment, my full focus turned towards helping Jim, Mary and Tina. However, I will never forget the five hours when I didn’t know the condition of my parents, and fully realized just how much I care for them. Each time I heard the siren at noon, I am reminded of March 13,1990.
Jan-Erik Unruh
March 13, 1990, will be eternally remembered by all those who were in Hesston, Kansas, that day. That warm evening I was five miles from Hesston, at home, visiting with my aunt and uncle from Nebraska. They had come over for dinner, and Lois, my mother, and my aunt were in the kitchen preparing supper. My mom had the radio tuned to KHCC which was snapping out warnings and watches for tornados and severe thunderstorms. My uncle Dick and I were outside looking at the developing storm front and talking about anything that we both found interest in.
This groping for conversation quickly subsided, however, as the storm front we were watching began to darken and become more violent The entire western sky darkened as the east still remained light The wind picked up, and Dick pointed out a small funnel cloud in the southwest As this tiny tornado began to quickly dissipate, I noticed a gigantic tornado about ten miles west of us. I watched it for a while until Dick noticed it too. The tornado kept traveling northeast - by then it was only about six miles away. Soon after spotting the tornado himself, Dick inquired about the location of Hesston. It was then that I realized that the tornado had an excellent chance of hitting the town where I attend high school.
Having heard some more tornado warnings in the area, Lois and my aunt came outside to notify Dick and I that we should come inside the house for protection. I did not pay attention to this advice, however, because I was in no immediate danger and nothing short of extreme bodily harm could have taken me away from the sight which rolled and twisted only five miles before me. The tornado, seemingly always increasing in size, continued its devastating path through the countryside. Then Dick noticed some debris flying around the tornado. Through further observations we concluded that this debris actually consisted of structures from the city of Hesston. This idea was confirmed when we
Jan-Erik Unruh
noticed Pizza Hut’s red roof lift into the sky, surrounded by what had been tens of buildings.
Soon after this awesome, crushing sight took place, the tornado seemed to be swallowed up by the black surroundings which had played its backdrop for so long. Dick and I went inside to a dinner that could not have been beaten - although, needless to say, it] was definitely not the discussion of dinner. It was not until the next morning that we discovered how much destruction the tornado we had so intently watched had actually caused. One thing was certain from the moment we noticed that great storm, however - this awesome display of nature’s fury would not be soon forgotten.
Tom Unruh
Tuesday, March 13, 1990, at 2:50 p. m., I was called out of my seventh hour Chemistry class. Our high school band was to have plenty of time to prepare for our concert in Lyons, Kansas, later that afternoon. I was also heading to Lyons to play in the League Honor Band that evening. Having spent the previous day in Lyons practicing with the Honor Band, I was not happy about making this trip for the second consecutive day. Much of my discontent was due to the fact that I was scheduled to have three tests the next day and I was not pleased about having to study on a bus once again. As my friend Jason Stansbury and I walked out of class we grunted and groaned at how this was going to be a long week.
While getting settled on the bus, I noticed the sun looked as though it were shining through a mist, which was due to the humidity and the dust stirred up by the high winds. It was one of the warmest days we had seen yet this year with temperatures nearing seventy degrees. It had cleared up a lot since the morning when it had looked like rain. There had been tornado watches issued for the surrounding area that morning and a tornado had reportedly touched down west of Moundridge, a town northwest of Hesston about six miles. All the way to Lyons I buried myself in my books which I had neglected for too long.
When we arrived in Lyons I looked back towards home (east southeast) and I saw some large clouds forming. I recall speaking with several people about some uncommon weather changes and activity throughout the day.
At about 5:15 p. m. the band had finished warming up in our designated practice area and we were quietly talking. I went over to the window and saw large black thunderheads back towards the east running along the horizon for as far as the eye could see. I figured we might be getting some pretty heavy rain back home.
Tom Unruh
We were on the stage from about 5:20 until about 5:48; the tornado had struck Hesston at about 5:37 p.m. I noticed our director, Vern Dreier, had left the stage while the clinician critiqued us. After we got back to our room and packed up our instruments, Vern asked us to go back to the school auditorium and listen to the Haven band. Directly after Haven finished, Vern appeared in the doorway and asked for all of the Hesston kids. As walked back towards our homeroom we learned that a tornado had hit Hesston. Fear immediately took over in the minds of all of the people there, whether their faces showed itor not. We all voted to skip the Honor Band concert that night and go back home. As I walked out of the high school I was struck with a view of one of the largest, most awesome thunderheads I had ever seen in my very few years.
The ride back home was one of the most panic-stricken, nerve-wrecking rides I have ever experienced. It wasn’t loud, but you could feel the tension in the air, which was heightened by an occasional wail or “what if” question from around the bus. Every radio station was blaring tornado warnings as we went home so we shut it off realizing information about our town would be limited. Vern explained to us that he had been pulled off the stage in Lyons to be informed about what had happened back in Hesston. He too knew little about the conditions back home. My thoughts shifted back and forth between my friends and family back home, their safety, what may have happened to them, and my observation of the storm we were heading into. My worries about my family gradually subsided as my attention turned to the storm we were pushing into outside of McPherson, which is 20 miles northwest of Hesston.
I had always been interested in weather patterns and this type of weather was very fascinating to me. After we had passed through McPherson, Jason and I were looking at clouds and how extremely dark it was getting. We both stated that we would probably be
Tom Unruh
more curious than afraid if we saw a tornado. After awhile we ran into hail and people really got panicky. As soon as the hail had started, it stopped and I moved across the aisle to Jason’s seat on the driver’s side of the bus to look at the dark clouds. I looked back across the aisle out of my own seat window and I saw very dark, low-hanging clouds. My window was dirty, so to get a better view of these clouds I opened it What I saw made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. About a half of a mile away there was a tornado ripping through a field. I yelled at Vern several times and he ordered the bus to be stopped. “Well,” I said to myself, “I’ve finally seen what’s mystified me all these years,” and it looked as if the tornado was heading in our direction. I got out and crossed the road, turning my back to the tornado, something I didn’t like doing. I waded through the ditch and scampered up onto the railroad tracks. A couple of other guys and I stood there and watched it tear across fields and rip out power lines until we were ordered to lie down in the ditch. It was almost dark and it gave the tornado a deadly look. There was no wind and I don’t recall ever seeing Kansas so peaceful. Much to our relief the tornado turned northward and crossed Old 81 Highway a mile or two behind us. It uprooted trees and demolished a building before it lifted back into the clouds. Needless to say, I kept my eyes on the sky the rest of the way home.
The bus cut over to 1-135 at Moundridge and we would have missed our'town had there not been emergency lighting and vehicles around. This couldn’t be my hometown, I had never seen anything like this before, everything was gone! I realized by the path of destruction that my house was okay. It was incredible and unbelievable looking at this town because when we left it seemed perfectly normal. People on the bus were in shock and still very apprehensive, and back at the school we exchanged
Tom Unruh
hugs before we were finally able to depart to our own homes. I was kind of glad to get home and I had an interesting time swapping adventure stories with people. Nevertheless, I will never forget the destruction done to this town, people's reactions to the storm, the unusual stories they told about it, and I could never forget the film footage that was produced from the storm. I don’t think anyone involved will ever forget this day.
Kerry Vogt
I got home from track practice at 5:00, right before the tornado struck. I went into the house and had my snack in front of the TV. When I was done, I changed and went out to do my chores. I was filling the hog water when I looked up to the west and saw the huge tornado. I drove up to the house, ran in and asked my two brothers and mom if they had seen the tornado in the west. We went out to the front lawn to watch the tornado move quickly across the ground. I had never seen a tornado in real life and this sure was a tornado. It was around a half-mile wide, not like the usual tornadoes that have a narrow bottom.
One thing that showed its power was when the whole roof of a house was going around 300 feet in the air like paper. Then when the roof was sucked in the whole roof blew up. Some other things that I saw after the tornado were dead cattle and cattle with sticks in the sides of the living cattle. A tornado was something my parents had never seen in their life, so it must have been great.
I was really worried that some of my friends would have been killed by the tornado. So my brother and I drove up to Hesston to see what really had happened. I had never seen such a mess in my life; the damage the tornado did in about one minute was just hard to believe. I went to my youth pastor’s house to see if his family was alright. They were missed by one and a half blocks. My brother said Hesston looked like a disaster area. The tornado really hit the heart of the town and took care of it. Anywhere I looked I just saw wood and tom up things. This is something that I will never forget in my life. I will pass this story on to my children and my grandchildren. I just know that the Lord was with everybody in the town of Hesston, because nobody was killed.
Kevin Vogt
It looked like an average Kansas day when I headed out to the golf course after school. The wind was blowing extremely hard and as I finished the last hole I heard the sirens blow. Kirby Rogers and I decided to get a better look at it so we headed out of to This is when I first saw the tornado, but it didn’t look like one because it was so wide. As we drove into town I stopped and talked to my dad who didn’t think it was going to hit us. We all piled into our truck and went to the outside of town where we sat and watched it come right for us. When it was about a half-mile away, we decided to leave. As we sped away it looked like we weren’t getting away. We drove out by the Hitchin’ Post and watched it destroy the town. As we drove through town and looked, we didn’t say much. Finally we got to the concrete plant and found my car was totalled. We then went to find mom and made sure she was alright, along with all our other friends and family.
Bryon Wegerle
The bell rang and we, the band, were dismissed to go to Lyons. I waved good-bye to Jacob Fry and Kelly White, who drove up in Kelly’s car. The ride up was all but peaceful with all the laughing and telling of jokes.
When we arrived at Lyons, I was the first one out the door and into the school. I was curious to find the homeroom. Looking back, I saw everyone behind me, not thinking if they were following me or not. Later, when we were called into the practice room to rehearse, two students forgot their music and our band director, Vern, gave everyone a lecture. Before I knew it, we were out on the stage playing and it didn’t faze me until we had finished. Another band’s director came and critiqued us for a short period while we laughed and joked about him. He was nice and friendly, however.
After we finished, we went to the homeroom to relax, and the teacher was called out by the principal or someone important The teacher then came and dismissed us to hear the other bands perform. I was the last to leave and felt strange in some way, not knowing what that strange feeling was until later. I was bored and hungry, and listening to other bands was the last thing on my mind, but slowly I made my way to the auditorium.
After they had finished, we were dismissed to eat and again I was the first in line. Vern stopped us midway and said a tornado had hit or went by Hesston, he was not for sure. Actually he was for sure that it did hit Hesston, but he tried to keep everyone from panicking. He said we could either eat first and then leave, or just leave, but before he could finish everyone was racing towards the bus. The radio was faintly heard and people were asking for it to be turned up. It said a tornado was coming towards McPherson County from the south and we were coming to McPherson from the north. Several people asked why we were going home, but no answers were coming back to them. For some odd reason my ears were popping, and the sky was becoming unbelievably black. Most people were crying, not
Bryon Wegerle
knowing if their families were safe or not. I was half-nervous, half-excited to do anything I stated out of the window and watched black clouds fly by Like jets. We asked what we should lock for, just then the radio said that it would rain, hail, and then be still. As soon it was still, a tornado could be seen. It then started to rain and hail and then was silent. As soon as it was still, panic broke out. I was too excited to do anything and suddenly someone blurted out that there was a tornado coming towards us. Sure enough a small twister was veering wildly through the fields. We stopped and I jumped through the emergency exit window. Not knowing where to go, I looked up and saw it coming towards us. I heard a scream behind me but didn’t recognize it It was a girl screaming for someone to catch her. As I turned around, she was already on me. I picked her up and she ran to the ditch, and another girl dropped from the window. I tried to catch her but she dropped too fast for me. I picked her up and we scrambled towards the ditch. People scattered madly to find a safe place to watch. Then the bus driver moved the bus, which was blocking our view of the twister. I don’t know if I would have rather seen the tornado coming towards me or just waited to see if it would have hit us; nevertheless, I watched it come slowly but surely to and then it went up into the clouds and vanished. We scattered back into the bus panicking. Another warning was posted when we were in Moundridge. We were going to stop and stay at the school but instead we rushed towards Hesston. Cars were scattered all over the highway awaiting. When we arrived at the exit, no one knew where we were. Nothing looked like Hesston. No buildings were in sight and the first thing I saw was a crushed refrigerator by the bridge. Wondering if anyone I knew was hurt, I searched for any signs of people I knew. We then arrived at the school where many firemen and a lot of unknown people were helping us settle down. No one’s families were hurt but many lost their homes
Bryon Wegerle
and valuables. I helped a few people and then went home.
My family was extremely happy and relieved to see me. They wanted to know everything. I couldn’t sleep that night because I couldn’t believe what had happened. The next three days I went to Hesston to help out. It seemed more cluttered than I had thought, but before I knew it, the town was looking better. After I had worked, it finally dawned on me that a tornado had hit Hesston affecting me and my friends forever.
Michelle Winchester
After eating at Kingfishers, which is on the east side of Marion, mom and I were listening to KFDI when we heard that a tornado hit Hesston. Not knowing anything else, stopped at a pay phone to call Clint who was home alone; no answer. Now feeling worried sick, and frightened we hurried to get home. Within ten minutes I asked mom if that was really heavy rain that we saw off in the distance. But of course neither of us knew. There it was, a solid black, wide vertical strip coming from the sky to meet the ground. As we closer to Hillsboro, the tornado did too. Anxiously awaiting to get out and jump into the ditch, I felt my stomach turning in circles with fear. Soon we arrived at my grandmother's apartment on the edge of Hillsboro. Shortly after our arrival, hail began to fall in the size quarters. Ted, my grandma’s husband, insisted on staying outside to watch.
Once we were inside, we listened to the radio and watched the tornado from a big glass window at the front of the apartment The massive, black strip was coming closer. Terrified, we all went into the bathroom with pillows covering our heads, waiting for it to hit Nothing happened, so we decided to go and watch. It was directly in front of us. Scared to death we stood and watched it come closer. We all became convinced that it going to smash through the apartment, but it quickly turned to the east A great amount sighs and fears were released.
As we listened to the radio about Hesston being leveled, mom and I decided to Clint and Casey Carson to find out if they were alright and to find out more information. Hating to leave, but yet hating to stay, we eventually decided to go home. Keeping my eye on the sky I started to feel eerie as we slowly made progress towards Hesston. After what seemed an eternity, we passed Goessel to only turn around because the roads were covered
Michelle Winchester
with lines that had fallen. Cutting over to Ridge Road to take the detour, we saw the sky grow darker.
There it was, the hill that enters Hesston in the north. Eventually we drove over it to be welcomed by police and a dark, silent town. The officers asked us where we were going and gave us permission to go through the Hesston Corporation. Making it out of the Corp., we reached Lincoln and I saw the Carson’s home was still intact As we slowly drove down Ridge, we saw the devastation of the houses and the park. Terrified, we continued as we looked in awe and hoped our house was still there. We the reached the intersection of Ridge and Old 81 and saw that no damage was done to this end of the town. Driving carefully down our street we stopped at the storm shelter to find dad and Clint. They told us about Melissa Davis, Rob Good, Pizza Hut, as well as others. My whole inside went empty, I couldn’t believe what happened. Especially to “our town”.
We (my family) went up to the high school to see what was going on and if everyone was okay - after all who could just sit at home? I talked to some people and we exchanged our experiences and talked about what happened to our friends. I still hadn’t heard from Casey. I couldn’t call, the phones were dead; I went to his house but he wasn’t there. After waiting patiently, I finally got ahold of him.
The next couple of days a group of five other friends and I got together to call ourselves the “Yo Crew.” We spent the next couple of days cleaning up the town as best as we could, making piles of the debris, loading it into trucks, raking, and whatever we could do to help. The weather wasn’t the best, but that made no difference. Although days have passed I still can’t comprehend the devastating event that took place in my hometown -Hesston, Kansas - on March 13, 1990.
Delvin Wohlgemuth
When the tornado hit Hesston I was away at Lyons at the Central Kansas League band festival. Our band had just finished listening to the Haven High School concert band when Vern Dreier, our band director, came in and said he wanted to see all of us in the cafeteria. When we got there he told us that Hesston had just been hit by a tornado. He wondered if we wanted to eat something before we left or if we wanted to go home right away. We all said we would rather go home - Now! So we loaded up the bus and for home. I knew it was going to be a long ride home because when we got on the bus over the radio came a tornado warning and a DJ’s voice telling us not to run from a tornado, soon as that came over some of the girls lost it and started going hysterical so I knew then was going to be a long ride home. They did this most of the way home because we kept listening to T-95 and they kept playing that warning and the girls kept crying. As we McPherson the sky got as black as night and it was raining so we knew we were safe because a tornado never comes while it is raining. So we kept driving. We were about five miles outside of McPherson and then all of a sudden it stopped raining and then Tom Unruh yelled out, “TORNADO!!!” Ray Ediger our bus driver, stopped the bus and we all got out and headed for the ditch, but we all went to the wrong side and had to come back through the shin-deep, water-filled ditch to the other side to lay down. From where we were the tornado was about a quarter- to a half-mile away to the west and it was not coming towards us, it was heading north. Then Vern said, “Everyone on the bus NOW.” He did not have tell us twice. So we all loaded up the bus, and I was one of the last ones to get on because was helping people get onto the bus. I got on and the bus started to move, but Vern and Heyerly were still on the ground trying to get on. People were yelling “STOP THE BUS STOP, STOP.” Just before he stopped the bus they got on, so everyone started yelling “GO, GO,” and we were on our way home. We went through Moundridge so we wouldn’t
Delvin Wohlgemuth
have to go on 81 and go through town and see the mess. We were on interstate when somebody yelled “STARS, YOU CAN SEE THE STARS.” Then I said “Well if nothing else the band got a little closer tonight,” and then everyone around me gave each other a big hug. As we pulled into town, Vern told us that we would go to the high school where Mr. Price would tell us what to do. Everyone ran off the bus into the school and waited for permission to go home. Luckily everyone’s families were okay, and there was no one seriously hurt and especially no one killed. After taking some people home and helping with some unloading of supplies at school, and driving around town, I went home and went to sleep knowing everyone was all right
Keith Yutzy
Dear Donna,
Hi! How are you doin? I’m O.K. I hope you didn’t worry too much when you heard about the tornado. We didn’t get hit, but many of my Mends did. We were very fortunate. I was in Lyons when it happened. I was the first chair alto sax for the honor ban concert that was to be given there. We found out about it just after it happened, and left right away. About half-way home, a tornado touched down about a half-mile away from us My friend Delvin and I helped people out of the bus and ran to a near-by ditch. We laid there for about five minutes, and then got back into the bus and headed for Hesston. The path of the tornado was about half-a-block wide. There was a lot of destruction. The first thing I did after I checked on my family was check on my friends. Many of their houses go hit. It was terrible. I hope that you didn’t worry too much when you couldn’t get ahold of me. Thank you for calling, it really surprised me. I didn’t think you still cared. It meant a lot to me. I’ll try to get up to Esbon soon. Love ya!!
Peace and vegetable rights, Keith
Darin Hecht
I thought I was in space as I was speeding down Old Highway 81, approaching Hesston at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, 1990, after delivering prescriptions to Newton. I was certain I was being chased by the infamous Black Hole that sucked everything in its path. This Black Hole was huge and white inside with an opening that rotated like a roller-coaster. Pulling up into the pharmacy parking lot, I dashed inside screaming, "It's coming, the tornado is coming!!" Ross Brickley and Sharon Deering walked to the windows like they knew before I did that it would go around Hesston. As I looked with them, its mighty winds approached making it impossible to close the doors. The three of us rushed to the far back room as soon as the lights had gone out, and from underneath the table it sounded and felt like 50 freight trains yelling and rolling around from building to building.
It only lasted about 2 1/2 minutes, but as we got up and went outside to the streets, we and everyone else gathering knew that the death angel had floated over our part of the city. At first I couldn't see much damage except for shingles floating down from the sky, but then I realized where they and other debris had come from. I didn’t care about my own safety anymore; I had seen the destruction and I wanted to be sure everyone I knew was accounted for, and hopefully, not hurt. As more destruction began to appear I was afraid this town would become a ghost town after people had picked up and left, leaving Hesston as a memory monument.
After regaining the comfort of knowing where my family was, I began making a walk up and down every street in town. Seeing and hearing people around me talk and shake their heads in total shock and disbelief was enough for some, but I knew that once the biggest damage had happened, the tail of the storm still hadn't come. As it
Darin Hecht
began to hail with the cracking of glass, I ran for my pickup truck and began loading it with as many people as possible, taking them to shelter.
My family and I were gathering around our table later in the evening when the National Guard came door to door warning us that another storm had been sighted. For more than a week, the nights were filled with signs of terror. After being encouraged to leave for someplace with a basement, we went to the college for the night. That seemed to be the only safe place we knew of. The following morning organized efforts for cleanup were already being planned and I was a part of it
The next few days, the biggest gathering of hope and friendship began in Hesston to start the first of a new beginning of our town.

Original Format

self-published book