Chandler hit twice in 4 hours
CHANDLER -- People walking west into Chandler in the aftermath of Tuesday's tornado became quieter and quieter until finally all conversation ceased.
The enormity of the damage done to the Murray County town of about 300 residents was evident from the moment motorists crested the hills leading into Chandler.
The twisted path of the first tornado could be seen from the highest point within Chandler. It struck shortly after 5 p.m. According to the National Weather Service, a second tornado struck at 9:10 p.m.
A seven-house stretch on Chandler's Main Avenue was occupied by three branches of the Frank Vander Woude family --his house, one owned by his son, Arvin Vander Woude, and a third by Leon and Sharla Vander Woude.
All three houses were destroyed by the first tornado.
"I was on my way home from work," Sharla Vander Woude said. When she reached her home, nothing was left.
"But we're all alive," she said. "Nobody was hurt."
Linda DeKam was home with her son, Joshua, and her 12-year-old daughter, Stacy, was baby-sitting one of the neighbor's children. When the sirens sounded, DeKam didn't even have time to call to warn her daughter.
While DeKam was shepherding her son to the basement, however, her daughter was doing the same thing with her charges. Afterward they emerged from their respective basements. They began to salvage usable objects.
One side of the DeKam house had been ripped away, but DeKam's washed dishes still remained neatly stacked in the dish rack.
"The bedroom stuff all stayed, but the living room and everything else is pretty much gone," DeKam said, holding an armload of children's books. "My brother's house, you can't even see the yellow siding any more. And he can't find his green car."
Before 5 p.m. Tuesday, the hill behind Al and Linda DeKam's house contained a row of new houses.
After 5 p.m., nothing remained.
Lonnie Clark was helping to coordinate Chandler's cleanup efforts. He estimated the number of houses destroyed at 25 to 50. Numerous other houses also were damaged.
The Prins Grain Co. elevators were shredded, with machinery hanging by a steel thread from one. The older portion of Chandler-Lake Wilson High School had bricks torn from its upper reaches and part of the roof was gone. Superintendent Duane Hill was in Marshall when the tornado struck.
His son, John Hill, was in the family house east of the school. He had considered watching the approaching storm from a large picture window in the living room. Hill changed his mind seconds before it was shattered in the storm.
"I saw a mass, green and swirling covering the sky," he said, standing atop the remains of a Chevrolet Citation. Its back window was broken, and bricks from a retaining wall had made massive dents.
"I've never been in a tornado before in my life," Hill said. "It subsided in about two minutes, and I came back upstairs to find this."
What Hill saw was splintered trees, buildings, houses and plans. Jim Vanden Eykel began putting plastic around his house's shattered windows within two hours after the tornado.
His 100-year-old house was spared because of the numerous trees surrounding it, Vanden Eykel said.
Few of those trees survived the storm, however. Scarcely one square foot of grass in his yard could be seen. The remainder was covered with litter from the nearby Main Street and broken branches.
Few Main Street businesses survived unscathed. The geraniums in front of the State Bank of Chandler were shredded by the storm and flying grass from the bank building's missing windows and door. Insulation fluttered from what remained of the roof.
The Coast to Coast store windows had vanished entirely, and a semitrailer rig was turned over on its side, its nose ripped from the cab.
Clark said displaced people would be taken to the nearby Bible camp at Lake Shetek.
"This was big time," he said.
Clark estimated at least one dozen rescue teams from the area came to the aid of Chandler residents.