Several Johnson County employees are helping communities recover after a large and violent tornado left a path of destruction in Douglas and Leavenworth counties this week.
The EF-4 tornado hit the Kansas City Metropolitan Area at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28.
Winds were estimated at 170 miles per hour, which was about 90 miles an hour faster than the winds that damaged the Johnson County Executive Airport on March 6, 2017, according to Trent Pittman, assistant director of community preparedness for Johnson County Emergency Management.
Pittman told the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting Thursday that they received requests for mutual aid from Douglas and Leavenworth counties. Emergency managers coordinated with Johnson County Public Works and public works departments from the cities of Overland Park, Olathe, De Soto, Gardner, Mission, Shawnee and Lenexa. They sent five task forces to Leavenworth County on Wednesday to help clean up debris.
Two Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) were sent to Leavenworth County from Olathe and Shawnee to inform Linwood residents about how to properly sort and dispose of storm debris, Pittman said.
In addition, Jim Sherman, Contractor Licensing program manager for the Johnson County Planning Department, spent Thursday in Douglas County helping assess storm damage. He was accompanied by Jeff Finch, a county building inspector.
Sherman is the coordinator for the Kansas Heart of America Chapter of the State Association of Building Inspectors and Building Officials, a volunteer organization that helps towns recover after disasters.
“It just skimmed Lawrence,” Sherman said. “A couple hundred yards, and it would have hit two fairly full subdivisions.”
The damage assessments he and Finch conducted will be used by the state of Kansas and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help determine whether there was enough damage to be eligible for federal disaster assistance.
“It’s hard to fathom unless you see it,” Finch said. “When you have a whole second floor of a house blown away and you see a single dresser with a mirror still standing, it’s haunting."
But he also said that he was amazed at how resilient those affected by the tornado were. He met people who were in good spirits even though they’d lost everything, and they were already starting to put their lives back together. They showed him an example to live by, he said.
Finch said, “You walk away from something like this with a big heart.”