State Representative Rides Out Tornado in Tub Kansas state Rep. Dennis McKinney and his daughter huddled in a basement bathtub when a powerful tornado hit their hometown of Greensburg on Friday night. He talks to Michele Norris about their experience.
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State Representative Rides Out Tornado in Tub

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State Representative Rides Out Tornado in Tub

State Representative Rides Out Tornado in Tub

State Representative Rides Out Tornado in Tub

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Kansas state Rep. Dennis McKinney and his daughter huddled in a basement bathtub when a powerful tornado hit their hometown of Greensburg on Friday night. He talks to Michele Norris about their experience.


Dennis McKinney lives in Greensburg. He's also a Kansas state representative. He and his 14-year-old daughter, Lindy, survived the tornado by huddling together in a basement bathtub. McKinney says they were expecting a neighbor and her baby to take shelter with them but the two never showed up.

Representative DENNIS McKINNEY (Democrat, Kansas): I was outside the backdoor for just a few moments waiting, hoping she would come out of her house. And stuff started hitting me. And the wind (Unintelligible) a huge roar. and then (Unintelligible)the roof started coming off. I ran down the basement. And we got in the bathtub and I told my daughter I was just so frantic. I said I don't want to leave her out there. And my daughter said let's start praying for her right now.

And we're really there for a minute. Two minutes, just a couple minutes and that It's just off (Unintelligible). A minute and a half or so, you know, the whole town was gone.

NORRIS: Now, this is a neighbor who didn't have a basement, and you were hoping that she would make a way to your house. Ride out the tornado with you.

Rep. McKINNEY: Yes. Her husband is out timbering. Her husband called and said, I'm sending Kelsy(ph) and the baby over. We thought that we couldn't (unintelligible) late that well, tell her to hurry, come to the backdoor. But she couldn't get her door opened. And that's fortunate because if her door had opened, I'm afraid, she would have gone right into the storm. So good thing she didn't come out when she did.

When we came out, we looked at their house and it was gone. It was just a -there was a pile of rubble with no basement, and I just - it was gone. And I didn't tell anybody could be even alive and I walked over and I called out and her voice from the rubble came out and said, please help me. Please save my baby. And our school superintendent was there and he came running over and our school principal was there also and he ran and get arranged a vehicle. We didn't know the street was blocked.

And we started digging and my daughter's there. She held the flashlights and pretty soon, we saw these little pair of legs and we pulled some stuff back and there's this baby, about a 1-year-old boy looking up at me. Big eyes, not crying, and I pulled him. He's looking at me like what took you so long. I pulled him out and he didn't have any clothes. And he has diaper on it. Didn't have a scratch on him. Pulled him out (Unintelligible) scratch on him and we did some more digging. Get his mom out and she was able to walk away. But we think we've lost some friends. We still haven't seen the fatality list. We knew of a few people we know lost their lives. I think when the fatality list comes out, you can see the grieving really get started here. And we still have a lot of the grieving process to go through.

NORRIS: So you know that there are people who perished in the storm but right now many people don't know who's on that list.

Rep. McKINNEY: Yeah. We don't all the people who are critically injured and we don't - we have not seen the fatality list. In fact, the pastor from my church was able to get back in town today and I got him hooked up with emergency operations. And so he could see the fatality list. You know, which one are in his congregation and he could attend to them.

NORRIS: You know, sadly this is not the first time that a town in Kansas has been leveled by a tornado. What happened, historically, when an entire town is obliterated by a tornado? Do they come back? Do they merge with the next town. Imagine you're thinking about this right now, the likelihood that the town will rebuild.

Rep. McKINNEY: We think we will rebuild, you know. I think that as we clear up the rubble as we start to clean up, people will start to see the opportunities that are here and we'll start to rebuild - I intend to. I know other people that intend to. We've already bought - the school's already ordered new track uniforms so the track teams can start competing in track meet and the golf team can start - they've ordered some golf clubs so the golf team can compete starting as early as this coming Thursday. And I think that's a great message to send out in the community - that we're here, we're not gone and we're going to keep going.

The one reason I think we'll rebuild because it's a beautiful place to raise a family. You know, it's one of those places where you can call up your neighbors and say, hey, have you seen my daughter? Have you seen Lindy around? And they go and say, yes, she's up here. Well, okay, just checking. And they know, if they do make a mistake, they can do something wrong, usually the news gets home before they get home. It's juts a great place to live.

NORRIS: In one of the questions I guess I have to ask, because you're now trying to work your way through the rubble. If the State's deployments - the national guards and of reserves deployments in Iraq - haven't all hampered the rescue and recovery effort.

Rep. McKINNEY: Well, they're somewhat short on equipments, so - but I don't if I'd say it has hampered it yet, it's - I did know they're short on equipment. It's noticeable - the (Unintelligible) equipments they are using here, some of the trucks are pretty old. There's not hardly any (unintelligible) available, but I tell you that our disaster responses in Kansas are quite well organize.

Another thing I remember, in this part of Kansas is all small town's so the vast majority of EMT that show up on the ambulances, the vast majority firefighters has show up, I think like this are volunteer. They're not professional. They're taking time away from their regular jobs. You know, the spirits that have around here and we support each other.

NORRIS: A lot of practical decisions have to be made in the coming days. Now, where will people live? Where will children go to school? If people get sick, where will they go to hospital?

Rep. McKINNEY: Well, the emergency management people say that they have to provide housing either within or very close to town because that's just where people want to be - they want range close to their homes. Most of the people that didn't have a place to go to were house in the gymnasium and in the French Church at Javelin, which is a town just 10-miles east of us. We had the buses came in from all the communities around. Buses came in, pick people up and give them transportation to those shelters.

You realize how the community networks because we've got people with no money, no cars, have lost their driver's licenses. The banks are close. They can't access the money in their accounts and you realize how it all works together. And - but there's a good - great effort going on to get things going again.

NORRIS: If I can just ask before we say goodbye, how is your daughter doing?

Rep. McKINNEY: She's doing fairly well. You know, she's still struggling. It's still sinking in and today - for the first time - she'd been back in town in the daylight since the storm. You know, I think we still have a lot of talking and a lot of healing that - she got to see some of her friends today and, you know, they held each other and cried and talk to each other and I think that was the beginning of the healing process. Right there (Unintelligible) some good there.

NORRIS: Well, Representative McKinney, thank you for - I know you're a busy man. Thank you for taking time to talk to us.

Rep. McKINNEY: Thank you for caring. We - you know, we are just a small town in fabulous Kansas who didn't think anybody knew where we were cared. It's just nice to know that everybody does cared and I appreciate you being concerned.

NORRIS: And all the best to you and your family, sir.

Rep. McKINNEY: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Representative Dennis McKinney. He's a resident of Greensburg and he represents the town in the Kansas State Legislature.

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