HOISINGTON, Kan. – Gerald Tauscher was confident the town alarms would give him plenty of warning if a tornado was coming, and he was in no hurry to go to the basement as thunderstorms rolled across the area.
The sirens never sounded. Tauscher was killed late Saturday and 28 people were injured by a twister that ravaged an area of town six blocks wide and a mile long. One person remained in critical condition Sunday.
All that remained of Tauscher's home was the empty basement where his wife, Joyce, had taken shelter just before the tornado struck.
"I have nothing," Joyce Tauscher sobbed on Sunday.
Officials estimated the tornado destroyed 200 buildings and severely damaged another 85 in the town of 2,900 people, 100 miles northwest of Wichita. The roof was blown off the high school auditorium, the local hospital had to be evacuated and the Dairy Queen was destroyed while several people took shelter in a walk-in freezer. High school students interrupted their prom to go to a shelter.
The storm that spawned the tornado was part of a huge weather system that spread thunderstorms and showers across wide areas of the southern and central Plains and record snowfall farther north.
While the weather worsened at Hoisington late Saturday, the television station Gerald Tauscher was watching reported that the brunt of the storm was seven miles north of them.
Tauscher, 69, was unconcerned when his wife asked if they should seek shelter in their basement.
"There is no hurry," he told her. "They will sound the alarm when it is bad."
Joyce Tauscher, 60, said she went down to the basement after a door blew open and the house vibrated.
She hollered to her husband to get down to the basement, and made it downstairs herself just as the staircase was ripped out and hit the furnace, which toppled on top of her.
"Then all of a sudden, all of it disappeared. The wind took it away from us," she said. "I looked and my house was totally gone."
Two hours later, searchers found her husband's body underneath a minivan in their back yard.
Barton County Sheriff Buck Causey said the town's sirens were not set off until after the storm struck. For an hour before the tornado struck, he and another officer had gone outside the city limits to watch the storm but saw only low clouds and lightning.
"Nobody saw this tornado. Nobody saw it coming," Causey said.
City Manager Allen Dinkel said it is standard procedure for police to decide whether to sound the sirens.
Elsewhere on the Plains, snow fell along the northwestern and western sides of the storm system.
Southern sections of Wyoming got 7 to 16 inches of snow, and about 120 miles of Interstate 80 was closed because of vehicles sliding off the road and into each other.
A record 20 inches fell at Rapid City, S.D., in the mountainous Black Hills surrounded by the Plains. A jackknifed tractor-trailer rig backed up traffic on Interstate 90 for two miles during the morning.