Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 17 April 2012 14:21
Merle Ecklund’s rural home located about a mile and half southeast of Lost Springs was one of the few residential properties severely damaged by the tornado that passed diagonally through Marion County Saturday night. In the lower photo he inspects what’s left of his exposed kitchen. In the top photo he stands by an oil derrick that was uprooted by the twister; his residence is in the background.
Most Marion County residents breathed a sigh of relief after Saturday’s tornado scare. But Merle Ecklund, 70, and his wife, Deborah, 65, of Lost Springs, were glad to walk away with their lives.
Ecklund sifted through piles of debris Monday trying to decide what to keep while sidestepping shards of glass caused by the tornado.
“The insurance adjuster was here and asked us to make a list of the contents and what was destroyed,” Ecklund said, adding the house was a total loss.
Standing outside the house, Ecklund looked east toward Wagonwheel Road and the half-mile hedgerow with many of his family’s personal items twisted and dangling from the trees. He said he spotted most of his metal roof in the trees along with his fishing boat, boards and other papers.
“There will be people awful mad at me because I don’t know where my bills are,” he said.
“I wrote two checks—one for the Internal Revenue Service and the other to the state of Kansas for quaterly payments,” he added with a chuckle. “They were on the kitchen cabinet to be mailed, but don’t know where they are now.”
Ecklund said he doesn’t know if they plan to rebuild.
“I had four bypass surgeries in July 2008 and last week my wife had congestive heart failure,” he said. “They gave her last rites twice and pulled all life support, but she later got up and wanted to watch television.”
Ecklund said his wife’s resurgence was a miracle—as was Saturday’s close call with the weather.
“(Deborah) had just gotten home from the hospital and was on oxygen,” he said.
Watching the news reports and hearing what the storm chasers had to say, the Ecklunds knew they needed to leave.
“It was just after dark and it was raining and hailing when we left,” he said, “maybe about 9 p.m. We got in the car and took off (to our son’s house) and we didn’t look back.”
Sometime after 10 p.m., Ecklund returned to see what if the home had been damaged. He said he was surprised what the tornado did to their home.
“I wish people didn’t have to go through this,” he said.
Some of the more unusual sights he noticed was a garden hoe that had been in the garage but was now sticking through the exterior bathroom wall.
His wife’s Mercury Marquis had a hole through the metal roof, but they had no idea how it was punctured.
The four-car garage was completely gone.
“It looks like I just poured the cement and quit,” he said.
A retired farmer, Ecklund said one of his oil stripper wells was uprooted and laid over to one side.
“This had to be a real powerful tornado,” he said, “because everything (on the oil well) is open and air-vented and with all the weight from the rods going down 2,400 feet, plus all that fluid inside, the tornado still managed to pick the thing up, turned it around and upset it.”
For now, Merle said he and Deborah are grateful they are alive to tell the story, commending Marion County Emergency Preparedness for its help in contacting the American Red Cross and others to assist them.
“We were provided a place to stay in Herington,” he said.
Ecklund said his neighbors, Darren and Amy Makovec, also on Wagonwheel Road, had damage to the siding and windows of their home, but no one was hurt.
A night to remember
A massive storm system triggered tornadoes and tornado warnings across the state, but according to Marion County Sheriff Robb Craft no one was injured and only minimal damage was reported.
“We had seven people (from the sheriff’s office) watching for tornadoes,” he said.
Craft said he went through Lehigh with lights and siren warning of tornado danger.
“We will do this with other towns if we see severe storms are moving in their direction,” he said.
Dan D’Albini, director of Marion County Emergency Preparedness, said he was watching for tornado sightings and stayed out until 1:15 a.m. Sunday until he was sure the tornado that had hit Wichita was not on a path heading for Florence and Burns.
In addition to the destruction of the Ecklunds’ home, D’Albini said a house south of Pilsen was heavily damaged and 10 bare patches were sighted where outbuildings stood prior to the storms.
Even though prom-goers in Hillsboro, Marion and Goessel spent some of their evening in the school storm shelters, no one was injured. Communication before, during and after the tornado warnings was commendable.
Hillsboro High School Principal Max Heinrichs said the school had a plan in place, and parents and students were aware of what to do in case of an emergency.
Shortly before 8 p.m., he said, the planning paid off.
With three vehicles left to promenade, spectators were forced to evacuate when emergency sirens sounded.
Inside the gymnasium, students went to the HMS locker room and remained there for about 45 minutes until it was safe to come out.
“The kids danced until about 10:15 p.m. and then were sent home,” he said.
The after-prom was postponed, Heinrichs said, and is rescheduled for Friday in Wichita.
Goessel Superintendent John Fast said he wanted to thank Marion County Deputy Wilma Mueller for keeping them informed.
“At about 8:15 p.m.,” he said, “the sirens went off with a tornado between Goessel and Moundridge.”
Students were taken to the storm shelter in the high school basement and stayed there for about 30 minutes, he said.
“After the all clear,” he said, “we went back to finish with prom.”
For Fast, along with other staff and volunteers at the prom, it was hard to decide whether to hold the prom.
“We were within a half-inch of moving toward postponement,” he said. “But when the forecasters said the storm’s arrival would be moved back several hours, we felt we could go ahead and do it.”
Although Fast said he realized not everyone would agree with the decision, he said feedback from the students was good.
“We are fortunate everything ended well,” he said.
At Marion High School, the promenade started at 6 p.m. without incident.
After dinner and before the dance, however, the sirens sounded.
According to Marion High School Principal Tod Gordon, the students were in “transition” and were off school grounds.
Many of the students returned earlier than expected and stayed in a safe location in the Marion Sports and Aquatic Center.
Once the major threat of tornadoes was over, he said, students attended the dance and after-prom.
Gordon also commended the students, staff and other volunteers for not panicking and making this year’s a night to remember.
According to the National Weather Service, the next storm could be as early as Thursday.
Meteorologist Vanessa Pearce in Wichita said by Friday temperatures are expected to be cooler after the cold front moves through.
Pearce said her office is continuing to compile data about Saturday’s storm, but specific information on how many tornadoes touched down, damage and storm track will not be released until later in the week.