Wyandotte County, KS Tornado, May 1961

Tornado Hurtled Car, Occupants Over Trees

Kansas City (AP) - "Where are we? What happened? Where's our car? There's supposed to be another girl with us."

Dazed, disheveled, two girls from Leavenworth, Kan., anxiously queried two men who found them stumbling along railroad tracks Sunday afternoon in the wake of a tornado.

At least 12 persons were injured by the twister and companion funnels in a 95-mile path from Basehor, Kan., to Carrollton, Mo. About 60 farms and homes were destroyed or damaged.

Miss DANIELE DILSTEAD, 17; Miss PAT WILKINS, 16, and Miss MARY ANN DAY, 16, had started driving back to Leavenworth from Wyandotte County Lake when a storm approached.

"All of a sudden it got bad and I put on the brakes but the car didn't stop," Miss GILSTEAD said. "It just kept on going."

The girls couldn't remember what had happened after that, but state trooper Robert Cooper figured it this way:

The tornado hurled the car over a railroad, over a grove of trees 50 feet high, and dumped it upside down in a drainage ditch 300 feet from the highway.

"The girls couldn't recall whether they had jumped from the car or had been thrown from it," said Robert H. Gebhart, one of the two rescuers.

The men took the girls to a house and went back to look for MISS DAY. They found her 150 feet from the car.

"The girl was rolled up in a ball, face down and moaning." Gebhart said. "She had severe facial lacerations and complained of her head hurting."

An ambulance took the three girls to a Leavenworth hospital.

Meanwhile, dozens of families were surveying the scattered remains of homes, and farm buildings. Orchards and woodlots showed only barren stumps.

"It was such a beautiful house-such a beautiful home," moaned Mrs. Robert L. Buford. The house and barn were gone and a nearby pond lay quiet, surrounded by wreckage and tree skeletons.

Shortly before, 13 persons had been enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Buford home.

"We were watching television when we heard the noise of the wind," said 13-year-old Roger Buford. "We got everyone into the basement and the girls were crying. We put mattresses over the girls and Tom Groneman and I pushed against the door but the wind was too strong and broke the lock. It didn't blow into the basement though."

All 13 emerged from the basement unhurt.

The big tornado developed over Wyandotte County out of a massive black cloud described by witnesses as a giant, roaring ball.

American Red Cross disaster headquarters at Basehor listed eight farms damaged and some livestock injured in the tornado which struck about 3 p.m. Sunday.

Alerted by the weather bureau, police toured the city with screaming sires and air raid sirens howled while jittery residents watched the clouds. Most of those in the tornado's path had time to reach secure shelter.

The injured included the three Leavenworth girls; Mr. and Mrs. ALBERT GREVE and their four children; WILLIAM HELLEBUYEK, 55 of near Lake Weatherby, and Mr. and Mrs. DICK THOMPSON, who live north of Richmond.

The GREVE'S traveling on U.S. 73 in Kansas, stopped at a farmhouse but were caught by the wind as they ran toward the house. They were battered by debris.

Damage was estimated at $40,000 at the farm owned by CARL RICE, former Kansas national Democratic committeeman, north of Victory Junction.

Many homes in Wolcott were damaged, including the house where LOWELL LEE ANDREWS killed his father, mother and sister in 1958.

Great Bend Daily Tribune, Great Bend, KS 8 May 1961