Archive for Thursday, December 18, 2003

Tornado brought families together

Families affected by tornado say there’s no place like home

December 18, 2003

A tornado destroyed their homes and divided them from their neighborhood. In all its fury, however, the storm could do little to dampen the resolve of three families living near Kansas Avenue.

From a lazy spring day, a cyclone with winds reaching 150 miles per hour emerged and bullied its way through Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. In its wake, hundreds of homes sustained serious damage.

The winds reached perhaps their most aggressive peak as the storm crossed paths with the Hicks, McKinley and Berberich family homes, which are approximately a hundred yards or so from each other near Kansas Avenue.

Their property resembled the site of a plane crash at best, a combat zone at worst.

That was seven months ago, in May.

Today, the quiet country neighborhood seems almost restored to its pre-storm condition. The houses, obliterated by the tornado to little more than rubble and foundation, are rebuilt.

And, more importantly, they're reoccupied by the families.

"We're all back home," said Leah Hicks, standing in roughly the same spot in her rebuilt home from which the tornado struck in May. "And it's great to be back."

After the tornado left them without homes, the families went there separate ways, some staying with relatives, others moving into an apartment complex. Their relocation was temporary -- each family reunited in the evening as they monitored the progress of construction crews rebuilding their homes.

"It was everyday," Leah said. "At first it was once a day and sometimes twice a day. We all wanted to see the progress and what was being done.

"This brought us even closer together."

Although the tornado was the center of headlines and water cooler conversations after it struck, little attention was paid to the stories of people affected by the twister.

Each of the families has its own unique, pre- and post-storm tale.

Holiday traditions kept alive

It's probable Alexander Graham Bell's invention helped save Kathy McKinley and her family from any harm during the tornado. A telephone call from her father-in-law warned McKinley of the storm on May 4.

While she was on the telephone, McKinley looked out of her window and saw a gray, skinny, needle funneling toward her property.

Luckily, no one was injured.

Today, standing in her new living room, McKinley said she and her two children, Matthew and Taylor, are happy to be back home in time for the holidays.

"We really wanted to be back in the house for Christmas," Kathy said. "We have traditions established and we didn't want to miss that."

The floor plan of the McKinleys' new home is a little different, and family members said they miss the old house because it held many fond memories, but overall they're pleased to be in their own home.

"I wouldn't have built this one had the other one not blown away," McKinley said. "But, it's nice to be back. It feels like home again."

A tough potted plant

After the tornado struck, Kevin and Patty Berberich were amazed that a potted peace lily plant, taken from the funeral of Kevin's father in 2000, stood miraculously unharmed.

The plant made the trip with the couple to an apartment where they lived until their home was rebuilt. The plant is back home just as the Berberiches.

"It survived the apartment life in Lenexa and now its back home with us," Patty Berberich said.

Berberich said she and her husband were more concerned for the Hicks and McKinley families than for themselves but are relieved things have worked out well for everyone. The Hickses and McKinleys both have children at home.

"I knew we had it lucky with what they were going through," Patty said. "It certainly is good that everyone is back home for the holidays."

Back in the nick of time

When the tornado destroyed their home, Leah Hicks was four months pregnant. Post tornado, she and her husband, Kenny, hoped construction of their new home would be completed before the baby's birth.

"We really wanted our house done before he was born and we just made it," Leah Hicks said.

Samuel Kenneth Hicks was born 13 days after the couple moved back into their new house.

"Everything is OK, now," Leah Hicks said. "We were all OK (from the storm). Now, we have a beautiful baby, a new house and we're all healthy. That's what's important.

"We're all happy we made it by the holidays," she said. "We're home by Christmas."

The Hickses know the power of tornadoes better than most. Not only was their home struck this spring, the couple lived in Tonganoxie when a twister touched down there in 2001.

"We thought we did something to Mother Nature to make her mad at us," Kenny Hicks said.

A reminder close by

Each of the families said they were grateful for the help of friends, family, volunteers and other organizations after the storm struck. Without that help, they may not have been back where they are today, at home.

"Just when you think the world is a rotten place you learn there are kind people out there," Leah Hicks said. "We wouldn't know where to begin thanking people."

"We have wonderful friends and family," Kathy McKinley said. "They came over the day after and just tackled it. We're so blessed to have friends and family put their lives on hold to help us."

Although that May 4 storm will never be forgotten by any of the families, a reminder hangs on the walls of their homes. A neighbor photographed the tornado and framed copies for the Hickses, McKinleys and Berberiches.

"Come spring, I imagine we'll be a little nervous," Kenny Hicks said.

"(My son) watches the weather channel now religiously," McKinley said. "He can tell you if a tornado is within 100 miles."

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