- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) - Millions of people - from large cities to rural farm houses - live in Tornado Alley on the High Plains, but few experience the horror of seeing an F-3 tornado bearing down on them head-on.

Such was the case for Seward County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan McVey Monday night when he realized he and his two sons’ lives were in the hands of God.

The signs a tempest could develop began shortly after 1 p.m. one day when the National Weather Service issued a severe weather warning with possible tornados for all of Southwest Kansas. Later that afternoon, McVey was hearing traffic on his emergency responders radio band of bad weather coming out of Texas County,?Oklahoma.

Sometime after 5 p.m., McVey, who resides in Kismet, decided to gather up his two sons, Tyler, soon to be 11, and 9-year-old Aaron head to his Uncle John’s farm. John being John Massoni, who currently lives in Louisiana. McVey’s wife, Nicole, was at work in Liberal.

“Anytime there’s a storm warning, we’ve been going there,”?McVey explained. “For the last 42 years we’ve been going there because of the basement.”

“We came out, and I?brought my (sheriff’s department) radio with me because I?knew all the spotters would be watching for it (a tornado).”

Once at Massoni’s, which is about a mile and a half west of Kismet, McVey saw a small tornado funnel somewhat west of the Panhandle Eastern Plant area, but spotters were having trouble seeing it due to a rain wrap and heavy clouds.

“I?had a perfect view of it,”?McVey said. “It would go up a little bit and it would drop down, and then back up.”

“Then it got on the ground, but then it lifted up,”?he continued. “You could see a little bump so I?knew it wasn’t gone yet, and it kept building.”

He briefly contemplated getting the boys, who were in the house and down in the basement, and jumping in his pickup and driving north as fast as he could and then turning west. He knew the storm was heading northeast and right at them.

But time was vanishing quick.

When he looked back, the tornado was building in size south of Larry Roehr’s house and west of Joy Beasley’s place on Road T.

“When I?turned back one last time . during a break in the radio (traffic), I?believe I said, ‘It’s straight west of T on Road 15 and headed northeast. I’m headed for cover,”’?he said.

The High Plains Daily Leader (https://bit.ly/1XjAmRJ ) reports that the last McVey saw it was from the top of a small hill near a road and a pivot west of the farmhouse.

“That’s one-half mile wide,”?he said.

It was also nearly 6 p.m.

He ran into the house and the boys were on the stairs going to the basement. They ran into the main room, called the basement den, and McVey decided not to gather near the fireplace because he feared all the bricks could come crashing down on them.

He took them through a storage room and to the south wall under the stairwell. The south and east walls were concrete and the stairwell was behind a two by six wall.

“I had them get down on their knees, and I hovered over them and bent over and held onto them,”?McVey said. “I told them, ‘plug your ears - your ears will hurt because of the pressure,’ and they both plugged their ears.

“I?knew it was going to hit us because I?could hear the hog barn and the grain bins ripping apart,”?he continued. “It sounded like a chain saw right next to me - the sound of metal flying through the air and then there was a loud bang on the side of the house right above us.

“And then the roar started,”?he said. “I’ve seen it on TV, and a lot of times people say it’s like a train. Well, to me, it’s the roar of a train going over you. There’s no other way to explain it.”

When the air pressure started lessening, McVey was sure the roof was gone and it seemed it was moving off.

“The entire time we were down there, all we were doing was praying,”?he said. “Tyler asked if it was over yet, but I could still hear stuff hitting the side of the house, and I said, ‘not yet, not yet - it’s almost done.”

A few minutes later, McVey was satisfied it was safe to exit their hiding place, and they crawled out and into the storage room and into the main room of the basement. Once Tyler had went back and retrieved his tablet, McVey said they discovered another problem, one that he believed could be as dangerous as the storm that had roared directly over them.

“When we turned to the stairway to come up, the window up there had blown in and there were chunks of the hog barn, chunks of the bins, glass, branches, lumber from everything south of us,”?he said. “It was just totally stacked up in the stairway.”

McVey got on his cell phone because there was so much traffic on his radio. He told the 911 dispatcher who he was and where he was.

“I said, ‘The house just took a direct hit, I’m in the basement with two kids, and I?don’t know if we can get out, and we need help.’ I?hung up the phone.”

It was then he realized they were in a dangerous situation.

“As I was standing there waiting, I?could hear a whistle, and I?knew instantly - the propane tank,”?he said. “I?didn’t know if it was the tank blowing or if it was the main line coming into the house that was blowing.”

It was then that McVey put the boys back into the storage room for safety. He then tore off his shirt and used the pieces of cloth like gloves to keep from cutting his hands and started attacking the pile of debris blocking the stairway.

Within 15 minutes or so, he had removed enough junk to allow him and the boys to squeeze their way up to the ground floor of the house.

They made their way down the hallway, and he immediately realized there was no roof over the utility room. He opened the door to the living room to discover even more damage.

“The living room was gone, the master bedroom was gone, the kitchen was gone,”?he said.

“As we were going through the house, I could see the propane plume shooting up outside the house, so I?knew it wasn’t in the house,”?McVey said. “But I still wanted to get away because a spark could maybe set it off.”

They made their way through the kitchen area because it had less debris than the other routes, and then crawled under a roof beam and got out on the front porch.

“When we got out front, I?noticed red and blue lights coming from the south, and I?told the boys to run down to the mailbox on the road and turn on their cell phones and wave them down,’?he said.

The first to arrive was Seward County Rural Firefighter John Steckle. Others soon arrived, and the propane was shut off.

Soon Nicole also arrived. She works for Eagle Med and was at the airport when the call went out from dispatch that a man and two boys were trapped. It didn’t take long for her to figure out who it was, and she immediately left work and was relieved when she found her family was safe and unharmed.

McVey stayed at the farm as people started assessing the damage. They also helped McVey look for his two horses he kept at the farm. He still hadn’t found them when he left around 10:30.

It wasn’t until the next day after sunrise that he found his horses about a quarter of a mile east of the house in the pasture.

“One of them had a piece of rebar or something go through him, and tin had cut him from his neck and down through to his shoulder blade,”?McVey said. “The other had a puncture wound behind his right shoulder into his chest cavity and was breathing blood.

“I?immediately called and had someone put them down,” he added, rubbing his hands together.

When Tyler and Aaron were asked what they were thinking when huddled together in the basement, Tyler spoke first.

“It was a lot of things,” he said. “Like fear - just overwhelming. I?didn’t know what to think.”

Aaron responded, “Same thing as he said.”

Both said there was a lot of praying, and they did see the tornado briefly.

“We saw it forming a little bit because we went upstairs and looked,”?Tyler said. “But then we ran down the stairs.”

Tyler also said when the hog barns and grain bins started ripping apart, “It sounded like chain saws and weed eaters scraping against metal.

Once the tornado was passing over the house, he added, “It sounded like someone was using a crane and taking the roof off.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that the boys got to see all the destruction in the bright sunlight.

“I was just in awe,”?Tyler said. “Because it was just all destroyed.”

“I was speechless,”?Aaron added.

The family-owned hog operation just south of the house was totally destroyed, not one of the five barns were standing and large silos and grain bins had disappeared in thousands of pieces. It took a day to round up all the loose pigs and move them to another farm. Several were killed.

Once out of the house, there was a light moment when the boys and McVey spotted a skunk right near the front porch. Remarkably, it didn’t run away when it saw them.

“He followed us - ran along with us,”?Tyler said.

McVey spoke up, “I?think he thought, ‘Well, you made it through, too and seem to know where you’re going, so I’m going with you.’”

“I was like, hey bud, we’ve just survived a tornado, and if you’re going to spray us, do it now, but he didn’t,” McVey said.

The ordeal has reinforced McVey’s love of living in a small community, with unseen people dropping off food and supplies starting the very next morning. One man McVey has never seen stopped and gave his number to McVey and told him he had 20 men who were ready to help clean up.

“I’ve never seen the man in my life, have no idea who he is, but I have a phone number,”?McVey said, shaking his head.

Offers of help were still coming a few days later from friends and people on Facebook, phone calls, texts.

“You know, everyone complains about living in a small community because everybody knows your business and all that, but after this - what we have experienced - is why I’ll never live anywhere other than a small community,”?McVey said. “You don’t get that in a big city.”

McVey admitted the ordeal scared him, and with his career in law enforcement, he’s had many opportunities to be worried, but the tornado was something extraordinary.

“You can watch the news, watch all the Weather Channel you want to, but until you’ve had one go over the top of you, there’s no way to fully comprehend what they mean by the roar,”?he said. “You might have an idea, but there is just something to it.

“Monday night, I was scared, because everything we heard, and I?knew it was the hog barns and the grain bins, and I heard the big things hitting the house - big stuff,”?McVey said. “I?really didn’t know if we were going to walk out of that basement or not. But we did, because we were praying.

___

Information from: High Plains Daily Leader, Liberal, Kan., https://www.highplainsleader.com


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