KANSAS COLLECTION ARTICLES
Contributed by Jim Banister and produced by Susan Stafford.




'the sirens began wailing . . . ' by Jim Banister

I DON'T remember the exact year--sometime in the mid 1960s--but I was working as a carpenter on the Valley View bank at 96th & Metcalf in Overland Park, KS. The day became hot & humid. There was an eerie stillness. The sky to the west took on that yellowish-green tint that any native of the midwest learns to fear. Suddenly, someone yelled, "look over there!" "Over there" was about four blocks southwest of the construction sight. Dipping out of that ominous sky, appearing to be heading right at us, was a funnel that looked at least as large as an inverted mountain. (We later found out that it was really a very small tornado.) About the same time as that sighting, the sirens began wailing.

      The bank's vault, two stories high and constructed of reinforced concrete, had recently been completed. Ironworkers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, everyone on the job site, piled off scaffolding, half leaping and half falling. The fact that the bottom of the vault contained about three feet of water from a recent rain was of no consequence. It was soon filled with tough, seasoned construction workers hugging the west wall. Fear was etched on every face.

      After about half an hour, during which the water level raised another foot due the torrential downpour that followed the funnel cloud, the all-clear sounded. We clambered out of the vault, fully expecting to see mass destruction around us. Outside of a few broken tree limbs and much water running everywhere, there was no sign of damage. We later found out that the roof of Francis Carpenter elementary school, three blocks west of the bank site, had been completely torn off, then the twister had lifted almost immediately, minimizing the damage.

      That day was a day when several twisters struck throughout the Kansas City area. One on the east side of town did considerable damage. It was also the day of my closest encounter with a tornado. I came to view that vendor of death and destruction in a completely new light. As a native Kansan, before that day I reacted to reports of violent weather with a certain blasť disdain. Since that time some thirty years ago, when I'm told to go to the basement, I go.



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