- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2011

READING, Kan. (AP) — A tornado swept through this small eastern Kansas town, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes, as severe thunderstorms pelted the region with hail that some residents said was the size of baseballs, authorities said early Sunday.

A man was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Newman Regional Hospital in Emporia, about 20 miles from where the tornado hit Saturday night in Reading, hospital supervisor Deb Gould said. She said two other people were brought in with injuries, but she had no further details.

Five people were injured in all, along with the person killed, said Sharon Watson, the spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She did not have details on their injuries or know whether all were hospitalized.

About 200 homes were damaged in and around the town of about 250 people, Ms. Watson said. The local post office and volunteer fire department were damaged, and all roads into and out of the town have been closed off. Reading is about 50 miles south of Topeka.

Rev. Lyle Williams, who lives in Emporia and is a pastor for about 10 worshipers at the Reading First Baptist Church, said the church suffered extensive damage.

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad,” he told the AP. “My daughter was out there and told me about it.”

“I’m not going to be able to have church today, that’s for sure,” he added, saying he’s been a pastor at the church for 21 years.

Power had been restored in the town by early Sunday, and a shelter was set up at a middle school. The tornado was reported about 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Ms. Watson said.

Gov. Sam Brownback declared an emergency for 16 counties, including the one surrounding Reading, Ms. Watson said. The declaration allows state resources to be used in recovery and cleanup and paves the way for federal assistance if needed. Ms. Watson said a state team had been sent to Reading to help local officials with recovery work.

Powerful storms rolled across northeast Kansas late Saturday, spawning funnel clouds and hail that ripped limbs off of trees and shattered windows. In Topeka, residents were reporting hail the size of golf balls and, in some cases, baseballs.

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado also touched down in Topeka and northeast of the city near Lake Perry, where damage was reported at a nearby campsite, Ms. Watson said.

Associated Press writers Erin Gartner in Chicago and Bill Cormier in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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