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Small-town dealer reacts to big-time tornado

All-too-common image: Damage of Reading, Kan., was severe, but flew under the radar of most media outlets.

There wasn’t a lot of media attention on Reading, Kan., last month, when a tornado touched down on the night of May 21 and wiped out most of the town. The press corps was focused on Joplin, Mo., and Reading (rhymes with bedding) is a small farming community: approximately 230 people were living in 40 homes; Reading Elementary School only has about 67 students. 


By Sunday morning, May 22, about 10 homes were left, some of them partly destroyed. The town’s school had its roof torn off, and its post office, Baptist church and volunteer fire department were damaged. One man was killed when his mobile home was flipped over. 


Jeff Clark, a Do it Best dealer in nearby Lyndon, had been tracking the F3 category tornado on Saturday night. Lyndon Building Materials is the closest lumberyard and hardware store to Reading, and Clark was worried.“We had customers in that town, and we knew they’d be in trouble,” Clark said. But the National Guard had closed off all the roads leading into Reading. 


Clark opened his home center early Sunday morning, and his Reading customers started streaming in. “They bought water, plywood and screw guns,” Clark said, referring to cordless drills. There was no power in Reading, so everything had to be battery-driven. 


By Monday, the National Guard started letting people into the area. Clark sent some of his employees with cordless power tools, plywood and 2x4s to help residents board up their houses. As of presstime, Reading residents were being allowed back into their homes for a couple of hours a day to recover their possessions.

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