Hesston Public Library

Digital Special Collections

Tornado: Every Kansan's nightmare
Collection: Documents


Tornado: Every Kansan's nightmare

Scroll down to view the document; press Ctrl+F (Windows) or Cmd+F (Mac) to search within the PDF file.


Tornadoes--Hesston (Kan.)


Article in Kansas Farm Bureau Insurance Services publication


Casper, Dave


Hesston Public Library


March - April 1990


Profile: Kansas Farm Bureau Insurance Services








Profile_Kansas Farm Bureau Insurance Services

Do you know something more about this item? See something that isn't quite right? Please post your comments and corrections below:

Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>

Social Bookmarking

Casper, Dave, “Tornado: Every Kansan's nightmare,” Hesston Public Library, accessed July 25, 2021, https://hesston.digitalsckls.info/item/468.

Every Kansan’s Nightmare
by Dave Casper Profile Editor
Most people never see or experience a tornado themselves. Somebody they know has, or they’ve seen pictures in newspapers and magazines that show the devastation and aftermath. But, when the tornado disappears, all that’s left are the testimonials and the piles of debris where homes once stood.
Those who experience a storm of such proportion can’t make words for what they really feel.
There’s no place like home, and there’s no place like Kansas where the skies have a firey red-orange glow as the sun sets and a thunderstorm rolls in on the horizon. Quiet and peaceful in the morning, only to be howling and roaring that night. Never is it the same for long.
The skies above Harvey County became very fearsome in the late afternoon on Tuesday March 13,1990. Around 5:30 p.m., a large tornado came rolling into the southwest corner of Harvey County. Reports had the twister sized at nearly a half-mile wide. It began it’s trek across the county leveling everything in its path. At least seven homes in the small town of Burrton were destroyed before it moved on, heading northeast toward the town of Hesston.
Several rural homes and farms lay directly ahead in the path of this huge black swirling wall.
The people of Hesston had little time to gather up any precious possessions before heading for cover. Fortunately it was still daylight and the tornado sirens warned the townspeople of the approaching tornado.
A path was cut through Hesston, more than a block wide, where nothing was left standing. The tornado passed
directly between the town’s two water towers but left them both standing.
In the aftermath, it was determined that one hundred of the towns 3,000 residents were injured when the tornado ripped through town, according to city officials. About 100 homes were damaged or destroyed and between 40 and 50 percent of the town sustained damage from the storm.
Electrical power was cut off, along with most telephone communication since the poles were snapped off and lines were tangled among the twisted rubble.
The storm had reduced some homes to mere piles of shattered lumber and left many people with virtually nothing but their lives.
Harvey County Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Bill Charlsen took cover when the storm passed near Halstead, just southeast of Burrton, where his service center office is located. From the radio reports, Bill knew that his job was cut out for him the next morning.
With the help of Claims Adjuster Phil Graybeal, who arrived first thing Wednesday morning, the two men began their task of assessing the damage and paying the claims. They started by drawing a map of the area and charted the tornado’s path of destruction, circling the farms and homes insured by Farm Bureau.
The two men started near Burrton, where three of the four houses that
The Hesston tornado destroyed several new grain bins and tore the roof off of several buildings spreading debris across much of the county.
Farm Bureau insured were totally destroyed. Several others in that area sustained some type of damage.
“What we did was start filing and writing claims as fast as we could. In fact, I would write ‘em while I was riding in Phil’s car.”
“I can’t say enough about our claims people,” said Charlsen, “they did a super job!”
That first day, Charlsen and Gray-beal visited the remains of sixteen rural homes insured by Farm Bureau, six which were total losses.
“It was just a matter of Phil looking at their policy and basically writing them a check,” said Charlsen.
Charlsen and Graybeal worked nearly all of the rural claims on up to the edge of Hesston on Wednesday, the day after the tornado.
“We got to Hesston that first day, but there really wasn’t any point in being there, you had to beg to get in,” said Charlsen.
The National Guard had been called out to prevent looting and the initial cleanup had not even begun to tackle the amazing amount of destruction that the tornado left behind.
One of the claims worked by Charlsen and Graybeal was the home of Lucas Fisher, a six-year-old farm
“It was a tough job, especially the casualty losses. When all the street signs are gone and the houses are blown away there aren't any house numbers left to go by. ”
boy killed when the tornado pushed a tree onto their house, causing the brick fireplace to collapse into the basement where Lucas and his Grandparents had taken cover.
“There really wasn’t anything for me to do, I just wanted to be there. Some of these people we had insurance on I didn’t know, and they didn’t know me. I felt it was important for them to know that I, as the
Power lines were down all over Harvey County and left workmen scrambling to restore electrical power and telephone service to the area.
agent out of this office, was out there at that time,” said Charlsen.
Charlsen handled most of the Homer-Owner and Farm Master policies outside of Hesston himself and channelled the rest through the main office in Newton.
Harvey County Agency Manager Don Bonewitz said, “To coordinate something like this is unbelievable. I don’t even know how many phone calls I had and we had a huge stack of claims turned in.”
Jack Hollowed, Regional Claims Manager, and Dave Guggisberg, Regional Claims Adjuster, handled some of the claims load in the Hesston area.
“They did a fantastic job,” said Bonewitz. “They had great empathy.” “It was a tough job, especially the casualty losses. When all the street signs are gone and the houses are blown away there aren’t any house numbers left to go by.”
“We drove around Hesston all afternoon just looking for cars,” Bonewitz said. “It was real tough to get everything organized, we couldn’t just start writing loss notices on scraps of paper.”
“Part of our problem after the storm was time control. Everybody who wasn’t hit wanted their policies reviewed. They want to make sure everything is up to date. That takes a lot of man hours.”
It will be 90 days before Don thought things in Harvey County would be back to normal. “It doesn’t take long to get behind after something like that,” said Bonewitz.
“The negative side to this whole thing is that it’s dam tough to write Life Insurance when you’ve got a disaster such as this. You can look at the records, production is nill. It’s tough!” “Everybody is still basically numb, from a psychological stand point, from the magnitude of the whole

Original Format