Tornado tears through Purdy, killing one
By Lisa Schlichtman
Twisted tin, chunks of insulation, splintered tree limbs and sections of rooftops litter the countryside where a tornado roared through portions of Barry County on Saturday night.
The devastating storm claimed the life of 40-year-old Ellis Kelly "K.J." Kissler, Jr., of Seligman, who died inside a mobile home that was completely destroyed when the tornado touched down on Old City Highway 37 in Purdy. Other homes had roofs completely torn off and outbuildings leveled, and there were literally hundreds of trees uprooted along the 200-foot swath cut by the tornado.
A lot of the damage in Purdy occurred in the north part of town less than a mile from the Purdy High School where a huge crowd was gathered in the gymnasium for graduation when the tornado tore through town.
"It could have been so much worse," said Sheriff Mick Epperly as he stood outside First State Bank on Tuesday awaiting the arrival of Congressman Roy Blunt who toured the tornado damage in the Purdy area before heading off to the harder hit areas of Newtonia and Racine.
During a caravan through the hardest hit areas of Purdy, Blunt made a stop at one residence where he helped former mayor Sarah Ceselski move some of her antiques, which somehow survived the tornado, into her home. The storage sheds that housed the antiques and other possessions were completely destroyed but most of the items kept inside were undisturbed.
"What's amazing about tornadoes is their selectiveness," said Congressman Blunt. "This one was bad, but it could have been a lot worse. You see the path of the tornado and you realize it missed the more heavily populated areas."
In assessing the response to Saturday's tornado, Sheriff Epperly said he was impressed with the effort of all agencies involved.
"In these situations, things are chaotic at first, but it didn't take very long until we had things sorted out," said Epperly. "In a short time, we had crews walking the streets and checking on citizens. It was a very organized response."
Recovery efforts were in full swing on Monday and Tuesday as neighbors helped neighbors shore up their homes and clear debris from roads and yards.
A group of Barry County Jail inmates also assisted with clean-up efforts in the Purdy area on Tuesday. Sheriff Epperly sent guards out to watch the prisoners as they spent the day picking up garbage bag after garbage bag full of debris from area fields and pastures.
Federal and state damage assessment teams were out in force on Monday and Tuesday, collecting property damage information from citizens and businesses that were affected by the tornado.
The teams are comprised of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Small Business Administration (SBA) and Barry County Emergency Management representatives.
Gail Reed, with the OACAC Barry County Neighborhood Center in Cassville, said her agency had some emergency housing money available to assist those hit by the tornado through its Emergency Food and Shelter program and the Missouri Housing Trust Fund.
"We will do whatever we can to get them the help they need locally," said Reed. "We're primed and ready to help."
Anyone who is needing assistance is asked to call the Neighborhood Center at 847-2140.
On Tuesday, Governor Matt Blunt and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured the devastation in southwest Missouri. They viewed the destruction in Barry County from a Black Hawk helicopter.
According to the latest damage assessment estimates provided by FEMA, Saturday's tornado produced winds of up to 175 miles per hour that killed 16 people and destroyed at least 140 homes.
The tornado that touched down in Barry County was classified as an EF-1 or EF-2 tornado, which produced winds of up to 115 miles per hour.