Storm damage assessments begin around Kansas

Authorities have begun assessing widespread damage in the wake of severe storms that brought at least two tornadoes, damaging winds and hail to eastern Kansas Tuesday night.

“Big event for February” in Kansas, said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service. “Good lord.”

One tornado damaged a large portion of the small Wabaunsee County town of Harveyville southwest of Topeka after sunset, and Westar officials today said the entire town is without electricity. Straight-line winds of more than 70 miles an hour felled more than two dozen utility poles in McPherson County last night, knocking out power to the entire town of Moundridge.

One person was critically injured in Labette in southeastern Kansas last night, Lawson said. The victim has been transported to a Wichita hospital for treatment. The Labette County Emergency Manager is conducting a damage assessment survey to determine whether the three-mile wide damage path was the result of a short-lived tornado or straight-line winds.

“We do have a number of customers without power” in eastern Kansas, Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said.

That includes about 4,000 customers in southeast Kansas, she said.

Extensive damage has been reported at Strother Field in Cowley County, where winds of at least 60 miles an hour were reported at 9 p.m. The same storm system continued strengthening as it moved east and caused extensive damage in southwestern Missouri later Tuesday night. Downtown Branson was hit by either a tornado or powerful winds, authorities said, and one person died in the town of Buffalo south of Springfield.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., documented 14 tornado reports in five different states Tuesday – including the first February tornado in Nebraska since records began being kept in 1950. The first was spotted nine miles west-southwest of Gandy in western Nebraska, and a second was reported later west of Greeley in the center of the state.

At least one tornado touched down in Reno County, authorities said. It stayed on the ground for about five minutes before lifting southwest of Hutchinson.