“I LIKE TO REMINISCE WITH PEOPLE I DON’T KNOW.”
To continue with tornado stories. We have just had the 30th anniversary of the Andover Tornado. It has become one of the cornerstones of tornado lore. For many years the TV programs on the Weather Channel and the Sunday afternoon shows. That tornado has been broken down into about five shows and if you did not know better you would believe that each was a storm all of it’s own. This is understandable since it was so big that there are so many stories about it.
My mom, two aunts and other friends were just coming home from a day trip at Adrian’s in Buhler. The watches were out and the storm may have been warned. They took shelter at Maple Gardens to wait out the storm. Aunt Gladys went on home south of Peck. She was almost driving into it near Nick Strunk’s where the tornado came down. The first damage, as far as I recollect, was at the Tjaden farm where two or three brand new International combines had just been delivered. The machines were destroyed and I was almost short one aunt.
I was the grader man for Afton Township at the time and was out checking on some roads that had damage. This put me on the backside of the storm. The sun was behind me and lit up the most spectacular clouds I have ever seen. It was one of the few times that I did not have my camera with me. It was the loss of photos of a lifetime. Listening to both my scanner and KFDI radio I could tell it was the storm of a lifetime.
I hurried home and the phone call came that Steve Blasi’s house north of Hydraulic and 53rd had been blown away. The nursery and mobile home park south of him had been directly hit. The row of houses on his side of the street were gone but those on the north side only had some damage.
Kansans are famous for dropping everything and coming to the aid of their neighbors. However no one had ever seen what country folks did for Steve Blasi. The Blasi family is a large family and Steve belonged to Vern and Theresa. They built and ran Blasi Tire Company on West Kellogg. It was not unusual for Blasi family reunions to have over 200 attendee’s. That was just brother & sisters, kids, grand kids, and great-grand kids.
My brother and I loaded everything we could carry in my pickup, mom got with the women and loaded everything needed to feed an army as well as the grill to cook everything. Plus tables, chairs, jugs for water, tea, and lemonade, and all the other things needed. When you arrived just outside the damage zone you had to stop at a school building and show ID and state who you were going in to help. As we stood in line the police officer said, “Are you all here for Blasi?” We all were.
We had my uncle Charles with his wheat truck, a dump truck and wheel loader from Well’s Dairy, and the dump truck owned by Frank Blasi. We started in to salvage anything we could recover, and started hauling debris to the county dump. We also helped clean up his elderly neighbor ladies property. While we were working Mennonite Disaster Service workers asked if we needed help? We thanked them and told them we had enough help and equipment that they needed to help those who had nobody. We had people come through offering boxes of pizza. We sent them on since we had coolers full of hamburgers and hotdogs and fed anyone who came by.
The mental toll on the people in the area was very apparent. There were people walking around in a daze and people sitting on porches in the area not destroyed like they did not know where to start. By late afternoon two lots were debris free and raked for any nails and small items. I am sure that there were other places cleaned up but this showed what family, friends, and country folks can do when the sirens blow.
We lost Steve not long ago. For many years there was a tin can lid that sliced into a tree in Steve’s front yard that was on display at the tire center. I am sure one of the family has that piece. It was a small reminder of what a tornado can do.