El Dorado, KS Tornado Devastates City, June 1958

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El Dorado, Kas. (AP) -- A tornado devastated 40 square blocks of a modest new residential area of El Dorado late Tuesday.
At least 13 persons were killed and 49 injured.
Lt. Col. W. W. GOODWIN of the National Guard, in charge of the searching operations, said other bodies might be found in the rubble.
The commander of the Kansas Turnpike Highway patrol unit, Maj. BOYD S. VINCENT, said his men were unable to account for the occupants of three automobiles which the twister apparently swept off the toll highway at the northeast edge of El Dorado.
Searchers found a 13th body today, identified as that of MISS BESSIE DIAZ, 48. She was found in the rubble of her home.
At least 150 houses and an elementary school were destroyed or heavily damaged.
Military and city officials issued passes to residents of the area so they could try to salvage some of their valuables and keepsakes.
One of the car missing from the turnpike apparently was driven by J. GORDON JAMES of Dallas, Tex. MRS. JAMES was in critical condition at the El Dorado hospital. Her husband could not be located after reporting to police that he could not find two teenage daughters.
JAMES said he parked under an overpass on the turnpike in an attempt to find refuge from the wind and heavy hail. JAMES and his family left the car only to see it swept away by the winds. JAMES said his daughters disappeared at about the same time.
Maj. VINCENT said all he could find of the other two cars were their motors and pieces of their leaders.
Some houses utterly disappeared leaving only foundations and the concrete floors of garages. Others lost only their roofs. Some, particularly brick houses, had only broken window panes and other minor damage. In some cases a house seemed almost untouched although on either side there were total losses.
One of those who poked through the ruins of a demolished house was MRS. CHARLES W. WHEELER.
MRS. WHEELER and her two daughters, SHIRLEY, 18, and SHARON, 17, took refuge in the basement along with two neighbor women and their young children.
"We huddled in the northwest corner of the neighbor's basement," she said. "It didn't rain. It got awfully still. I went up to the front porch to see what was happening. I could see the funnel heading our way. I hurried back down the steps to the basement and suddenly the house was all gone. It sounded like the cracking of trees."
None of the seven was even scratched.
The neighbor's house piled up against MRS. WHEELER'S home and demolished it. Although the walls and roof were wrecked, one daughter's dresses were left hanging neatly in a battered closet. Although the twister ripped the doors from her kitchen cabinets the canned goods stood fast in neat order on the shelf.
El Dorado (pop. 12,000) is 35 miles northeast of Wichita. Principal industries are two refineries, neither of which was damaged.
The tornado swept away four main electric power lines, plunging the city into darkness. Telephone lines were severed and the municipal water mains were broken in several places.
While doctors worked feverishly by the feeble light of candles and flashlights at El Dorado's only hospital, National Guard troops from nearby Augusta and El Dorado's own unit were called to help civilian officers patrol the streets.
Looters swarmed into the stricken area as soon as darkness fell. At least three persons were arrested for rifling the debris.
As the tornado passed on its way, a reported said, "A heavy black cloud clung to the eastern horizon. Over the city there was a fleecy cloud, white and beautiful."
"It looked like a shroud."
The tornado was the second disastrous storm of the month. A twister in northwest Wisconsin killed 28 persons and seriously injured 117, June 4.
It was 5:45 p.m., when the tornado hit El Dorado. Trooper BOB LEMON of the Kansas highway patrol, on duty seven miles south of the city saw it first.
"I followed it to El Dorado as fast as I could drive," he said. "I warned the El Dorado police by radio that the storm was coming. I don't imagine I gave them a five-minute advance warning if I gave them that much."
Another witness, NANCY KERSCHNEC, a secretary employed at radio station KBTO, saw the tornado strike the city. She said "It hit the Oil Hill district southwest of town, then skipped into the thickly populated residential section. I didn't realize at first that it was a tornado because it was a pale gray color instead of the black I had been told tornadoes always looked."
A temporary morgue was set up in the 4-H Club's building. There lay 11 bodies. The other victims died in the hospital.
El Dorado's hospital quickly was jammed to capacity. Hampered by lack of lights, doctors sent critical cases and those with bone fractures to three hospitals in Wichita.
Portable generators were dispatched from Wichita to El Dorado by the Boeing Airplane Co., and McConnell Air Force Base and Wichita's National Guard unit delivered mobile search lights. These provided emergency lights at the hospital.
An office was set up by the Red Cross, which arranged shelters for the homeless. A blood donors office was established at Wichita.
RICHARD TARRANT and three other coaches were working out with about 30 boys on two baseball teams when they sighted the tornado.
Said TARRANT: "It was the biggest one I ever saw and I've seen quite a few. We rounded up all the boys. The ones who had bicycles we told to get on 'em and get out of there -- go home. Then we put the others in our cars and took them home."
Fifteen minutes later TARRANT went back to the school, where they could have taken shelter, and found it in ruins.
State Trooper LEMON said the tornado crossed over a golf course at the west edge of the city, then dipped into a ravine where it hit the Towanda addition, a new development of houses. The tornado soared back into the air, only to crash again in another, similar housing area. Then it disappeared.
Forty minutes after the El Dornado tornado, another hit Pontiac community seven miles away but did no damage.
At the temporary morgue, Postmaster GLENN TARRANT had charge. TARRANT, a former sheriff, said the crowd attempting to identify the dead was calm and orderly for the most part.
The burden of treating the injured fell on Allen Memorial hospital. Administrator Roger B. Samuelson said the hospital emergency plan, drafted only a month ago, was put into effect and speeded up the handling of casualties.
The Sedgwick County Medical Society sent a team of doctors to El Dorado from Wichita, but the team had no more than arrived when it returned to Wichita. The doctors were needed there to care for the overflow of injured from El Dorado.
All of the dead were El Dorado residents except one, a JAMES KIRBY, 42, of Clinton, Mo. KIRBY was a construction worker on a project at the Skelly oil refinery.
First killed apparently, were MR. and MRS. W. M. CANTRELL. Three bodies were found in a trailer court on the corner of Towanda Avenue and Douglas street.
The tornado dropped first near the El Dorado interchange on the Kansas Turnpike and blew down homes in Smith's Addition. After hanging over the American Legion golf course, it turned east on Towanda and cut a 14-block swath.
There were unusual escapes from the twister, but JOHN D. DANIELS' family wasn't among the lucky ones. Returning home from work, DANIELS found his home in ruins. His 24-year-old wife, ROBERTA MARIE, and his year-old son, JOHN D., JR., were missing. DANIELS found the bodies at the morgue. Nearby lay the bodies of MR. and MRS. JOHN JENKINS, parents of his wife.
Red Cross workers said I. E. BRYAN told them his son spotted the tornado while driving toward El Dorado from Wichita, where he is employed. Racing to his home BRYAN got his wife and children into the car and headed south. They took refuge in a culvert. When they returned home, they found it smashed. BRYAN was so excited he forgot to give his son's name.
Another family, said Red Cross workers, had no basement in their house and crawled under the home for shelter. The tornado twisted the house off the foundation, leaving the family unscratched.
Early reports identified STANLEY SCHIMPFF as among the dead, but SCHMIPFF later was found safe. The error in identification was not explained.
Casualties At El Dorado.
El Dorado, Kas. (AP) -- The 13 persons killed in yesterday's tornado here included:
MISS BESSIE DIAZ, 48, El Dorado.
JOHN JENKINS and his wife, MARY.
ROBERTA MARIE DANIELS, 24, and her son, JOHN D. DANIELS, 1 year.
HOWELL PHILLIPS, his wife and their son, JOHN PHILLIPS, 14.
JAMES KIRBY, 42, of Clinton, Mo., a construction worker employed at an oil refinery project.
The injured at Allen Memorial Hospital here:
ALVIN ELLSWORTH, 24, Johnson, Kas., transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
MRS. LAWRENCE NACE, 48, El Dorado, and her three children, JANET, 11; DON, 15; ROBERT 6.
MR. LIPSCOMB, 40, El Dorado.
MR. and MRS. CLAIR SCHWEAR, 28 and 25 and two daughters, LAVEDA, 2, and AUTUMN, 9 months, El Dorado.
TERRY WEST, 15, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
PAUL GILLMORE, 45, El Dorado.
HALLIE DAY, 70, El Dorado.
ANNA DEMO, 79, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
NORMA SEWELL, about 18, El Dorado.
GEORGE RENROAT, 51, El Dorado, and his wife, 51.
TED DAVIS, 19, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
BETTY SMITH, 17, Burns, Kas.
MRS. CHARLES WELTY, 54, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (St. Francis) Hospital.
J. H. DILLON, 58, El Dorado, and his wife, 67.
EMMA ADAMS, 44, El Dorado.
FRED BELL, 63, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
ZONA PALMER, 7, El Dorado.
C. D. WILCOX, 8, Beloit, Kas.
WILBERT TRENT, 47, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (St. Joseph) Hospital.
ZIELA JONES, 67, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley) Hospital.
An unidentified baby girl, about 2 years old.
MRS. RALPH OLSOA, 38, El Dorado.
FRED SHARPING, 17, transferred to Wichita (Wesley).
CHARLES DALE, 69, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (St. Joseph).
WILLIAM LOWDERMAN, about 78, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley).
MRS. WEILENGEL, El Dorado, transferred to Wichita (Wesley).
MRS. GLENN COOPER, 41, El Dorado.
MRS. JOHN GRABER, 38, El Dorado.
M. M. LANE, El Dorado.
G. H. ROBERTSON, El Dorado.
Those given emergency treatment at the hospital and released:
CHARLES WELTY, 59, El Dorado.
RAY POWELL, El Dorado.
MRS. VELMA PALMER, 27, El Dorado.
MRS. LOIS GAINES, El Dorado. and her son, JIMMY.
CLARA TIPTON, 64, El Dorado.
DAVID CANNON, El Dorado, and his wife.
(Transcriber's Note: Many of the names on this list were very hard to read from my newspaper copy. I apologize for any mistakes in spellings.)

Atchison Daily Globe Kansas 1958-06-11


1958 tornado

I was 5 years in 1958 too, and living in El Dorado so you and I might be classmates. I lived at 1218 W. 2nd St., next door to the Nungessor's who had a plumbing business. We also lived down the street from Randy Ward, whose dad sold Chevys at Ronald Rice Chevrolet. My mom was pregnant with my little brother Chuck, who was born 6 days later. Our house didn't have a basement so Daddy put Mom, me, and my little sister Terri, underneath his and mom's bed and we rode out the tornado that way. It sucked out the curtains from underneath the closed window sills. I don't remember that, but my mom told me it happened. I can remember all this stuff like it was yesterday.

The death of Glen Cooper

Mr Glen Cooper was not injured in this tornado and now resides at his home in the very same location it was blown from, newly rebuilt. Mr Cooper has survived to a healthy age of 102. His wife was, however, injured severely and had to undergo surgery but survived passing away in 1996. Their daughter was standing on the El Dorado dam and witnessed the event, taking pictures as it happened, with a group of Girl Scouts.

Please do not count our wonderful Mr Cooper among the deceased.

Thank you.

His son-in-law

1958 El Dorado, KS tornado

We too lived on State Street - we had no warning - my dad looked out the kitchen window and yelled "tornado's coming - get in the car"! We had no basement or shelter so we got into the car and drove into El Dorado with my dad yelling out the car window to everyone he saw about the tornado. We stopped long enough to grab my Grandma and Grandpa - they lived on Alleghany Street and he drove as fast as he could to about 2 miles East of town on a hill where we stopped the car and watched the tornado barrel through town.

When we first saw the tornado, it was coming across the turnpike straight for our house - throwing cars, telephone poles and trucks into the air. I was about 12 or 13 at the time.

I was five years old and

I was five years old and living on Edgemoor Drive on June 10, 1958. We were having hamburgers for dinner. My father noticed an unusual amount of traffic on the street and went to the front door, where a neighbor shouted, "head for shelter, there's a tornado!" We jumped in the car and drove a block to a neighbor's backyard storm shelter, at that time one of the few around. It was packed full. I still had my hamburger in hand, and a younger boy had his hot dog. I don't remember hearing the sound, but at one point a license plate being used as a window cover was sucked shut by the change in air pressure outside. After the storm passed, we left the shelter. Our house was intact, but the park one block to the west was in the path of the storm. Metal jungle gyms were twisted out of shape. The houses in the next block were mostly leveled. Some people who had taken refuge in the elementary school, which was thought safe because of the steel reinforced ceiling, were killed when the ceiling collapsed. In our back yard we found a two by four driven a foot into the ground. there was a perfect circle broken in the asbestos siding near the foundation, and beneath it a pile of broken glass and navy beans, thrown there from someone's cupboard blocks away. In the years following, the city installed warning sirens. Many more backyard shelters were built in El Dorado after the 1958 storm, including one by our next door neighbor. I always kept a small suitcase with my prized possessions which I took to the neighbor's shelter during storms. Tornadoes remain a recurrent feature in my dreams.

El Dorado, Kansas tornado

My wife and I had just been married in May, 1958 and we were staying at my grandmother's house on the southwest side of El Dorado. The day of the tornado I was at home with an ear infection when it began to rain and then hail. We went to the front porch to look at the hail and my ears were popping, but I attributed it to the ear infection. Several neighbors from the other side of the street came running toward the house asking to get in my grandmother's basement, which was the only one on the block. Only then did I notice the very large funnel cloud headed our way over the treetops to the west.

As we got everyone into the very small basement at the rear of the house, I was standing at the outside door when the tornado roared passed about a half-block south of the house. And, yes they do sound like the loudest freight train you've ever heard. The sidewall was so well defined it looked like I could have walked up and touched it. Fortunately it passed by very quickly and left my grandmother's house intact; however, from the third house on south everything was totally destroyed.

Several other men and I went to that first destroyed house and heard someone yelling for help. We dug through the debris and found an older gentleman pinned under his open refrigerator. He had no idea there was a tornado coming and said he was just opening the refrigerator when it fell over on top of him. The open refrigerator door had formed a sort of tent over him and probably saved his life. He suffered only a broken ankle.

El Dorado Tornado 1958

On the evening of June 10, 1958 my parents were having dinner in their home on State Street in El Dorado, Kansas. My dad saw the tornado approaching from their dinning room window and grabbed my older sister, my mother grabbed my older brother and they fled to the basement. They escaped unharmed, however, my mother was 9 months pregnant. Due to the shape of the El Dorado hospital my dad took her to Newon and I was born the next day. I have always heard the story of my birth. Since I turned 50 this year I thought I would do some research on the tornado. It's nice to find an informative article on it. I do have a photo of the El Dorado newspaper from June 11, 1958, but up until now that was all I had. Thanks! The memorial sounds great. Hope I can get back there to see it someday. Teresa (Guinty) Minnich