Oak Grove Residents Say They're Grateful A Tornado's Destruction Wasn't Worse

Mar 7, 2017

After the EF-3 tornado that destroyed homes in Oak Grove, Missouri, residents of the damaged neighborhoods were mostly in good spirits Tuesday afternoon – happy to be alive and grateful for neighbors who were helping clean up.

Jennifer Swartz’s home on South Clinton Street was gone. She and her husband were having dinner in Lee’s Summit when the storm hit on Monday night. When they tried to return home, they hit a blockade and drove to Independence, where they spent the night with her husband's parents.

Jennifer Swartz, in the distance wearing a purple jacket, on the site of what used to be her home.
Credit C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

"We got up really early and turned on the TV, and they showed what looked to be the hill here on 25th Street, a cul-de-sac that looked like this one, and everything was completely demolished," Swartz said. "So we were anticipating not having a home. When we turned onto the road and saw houses standing, we thought, 'Well, maybe.'"

But what remained of their home was a concrete slab and scattered debris.

“We got very lucky," Swartz said. "God was with us, and he protected us. We would not have survived if we’d stayed here. There’s nothing left.”

Swartz and other residents of the neighborhood were trying to salvage what they could.

“Just trying to pick up the pieces that you can," she said. "It's a great way to do a massive spring clean,” Swartz added with a laugh.

Across the street, Rick Parr and his wife Gina had hunkered in a stairwell of their home.

"We're good," said Rick Parr, who huddled with his wife Gina in a stairwell as the tornado tore the roof off of their house.
Credit C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

“My wife felt pressure in her ears, and the next thing we knew the roof was gone. It happened that quick," Parr said. "It was just like a big thump — not quite a boom — and then I was able to look up and I could see the sky. I was like, Ok, the roof’s gone.”

After spending the night with Gina's parents, the Parrs came back this morning.

“The things I was most concerned about were her purse, my wallet and our medicines. And I found all of those so after that it was just gravy," Parr said. "So we’re doing good.”

Twelve people were injured, according to the National Weather Service's preliminary damage survey. The NWS estimated a peak wind speed of 152 miles-per-hour, as the storm, as wide as 400 yards, traveled a nearly twelve-mile path. 

Electrical contractors came from as far away as Wichita and Joplin to help restore power.
Credit C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

David Morisett of Sturgeon Electric in Wichita said ten crews, each with five men, had come from Kansas to help restore power. They'd received the call at 11:30 p.m. on Monday and had been up all night, but Morisett said that was not unusual.

"We don’t like doing tornados because it’s their misery when someone’s house is gets torn up," Morisett said. "We don’t enjoy it, but we still come out and do it."

Chris Kurtz, senior director of operations at Kansas City Power & Light, said power had been restored to about 95 percent of those who’d lost service as of noon Tuesday.

Also on the scene was Scott Lamaster of Taking it to the Streets, a non-profit from Greenwood, Missouri, that delivers aid to first responders at disaster scenes. Lemaster said members of the organization had been on the scene since 9 p.m. on Monday.

Scott Lamaster (right, in red) and his colleagues with the non-profit Taking It To The Streets of Greenwood, Missouri, offered aid to first responders, and then flavored coffee, snacks, breakfast and lunch for residents.
Credit C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

"Now that they've let the residents in, we've been providing hydration and snacks," Lemaster said. "We have lunch coming, and we had breakfast here a little while ago."

Like others on the scene, Lemaster praised the team spirit of those who had responded and were now volunteering to help.

"We counted our blessings it wasn’t worse than it was, and prayers for those who lost everything," said  Lynn Briggs.

The tornado broke windows, ripped off soffits and tore siding off the home she shares with Patricia Boutrouss on Southwest 25th Street. But they were moved when neighbors came to see if they were OK.

"We had a lady and two kids coming out this morning helping pick up debris in front yard," Boutrouss said. "It just brought tears to my eyes, how the community comes together like this in a disaster. It's very nice."

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.