Cassville family survives tornado's destruction

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 ~ Updated 6:09 PM
Governor Jay Nixon and his wife, Georganne, tour the tornado damage in Cassville and visit with Kevin and Crystal Pendergrass whose home was completely destroyed in the storm. Democrat Photo by Lisa Schlichtman

Tragedy struck quickly and without warning for the Pendergrass family of Cassville.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Kevin and Crystal Pendergrass' mobile home was flipped upside down with the couple and their two sons inside. Their home was one of four mobile homes completely destroyed by a tornado that touched down on Farm Road 1102 just north of Business 37 in Cassville.

After the tornado hit, Crystal said she and Kevin immediately began hunting for their sons, Dakota, 5, and Dalton, 2, whose bedroom was located on the opposite end of the trailer.

This is a photo of the Pendergrass family's mobile home that was destroyed by Wednesday morning's tornado. Democrat Photo by Lisa Schlichtman

"It was pitch black, and we both were yelling for the kids," said Crystal.

"It all happened so fast," added Kevin. "We found them in the middle bunk in their room still sleeping."

To get the boys out of the twisted and overturned structure, the couple climbed up an uprooted tree, over their truck that now lies beneath their trailer and in through the bottom of the trailer.

Governor Jay Nixon shakes hands with Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr, who is pictured with her K9 Charka. Kammerlohr and Charka were part of the local search and rescue effort following Wednesday morning's deadly tornado that touched down in Cassville. Democrat Photo by Lisa Schlichtman

The young family miraculously escaped injury with just a few scrapes and bruises but lost their home and all their possessions.

"We lost everything," said Crystal. "The blessing is we found our kids."

The Pendergrasses live less than an eighth of a mile down the road from Glenn Douglas Keeler, who was killed in Wednesday morning's tornado. Keeler was apparently thrown from his mobile home, which was completely leveled by the tornado. After conducting an extensive search of the area around the site, emergency responders discovered Keeler's body across the road and several hundred feet away from his home.

In addition to the destruction of at least four mobile homes on Farm Road 1102, another home on Farm Road 2090 just west of Highway 37 received extensive damage from tornadic winds.

On Wednesday afternoon, Governor Jay Nixon and his wife, Georgeanne, flew into the Cassville Municipal Airport after visiting the tornado damage in Branson. According to Nixon, the fast-moving tornado stayed on the ground for approximately nine miles in the Branson area, leaving destruction in its wake but claiming no lives.

Upon his arrival in Cassville, Nixon gathered in one of the airport hangars and spoke with a group of local officials, including law enforcement officers and other emergency responders, before touring the tornado-damaged areas by car and by foot.

"Our prayers go out to those who lost a loved one," said Nixon. "We're here to help in any way we can.

"As we have traveled here, we have been able to look down and see the arbitrariness of the tornado's path. It's like the tornado reaches out and causes damage deliberately," continued Nixon. "It's very difficult emotionally. We don't like losing anybody. The loss to this community is a loss to the state of Missouri."

Nixon also commended local emergency responders for the professional way they handled the disaster and its aftermath.

While surveying the damage along Farm Road 1102, the Governor and First Lady stopped and talked to the Pendergrass family and others whose homes were destroyed in the tornado.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross were also on scene, conducting damage assessments and offering help to those displaced by the tornado.

Ron and Judith Wihebrink, a Cassville couple who have volunteered with the Red Cross for the past eight years, said they arrived at the scene at around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning right after the tornado hit and had been there every since. Those whose homes were destroyed by the tornado received vouchers for lodging, food and clothes.

The OACAC Neighborhood Center in Cassville is currently accepting personal hygiene items, blankets, towels, sheets, kitchen items and non-perishable food for families that were affected by last night's storm. No clothing will be accepted. For more information, call 847-2140.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: