Cleanup continues after tornado affects 152 structures in Eureka

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EUREKA, Kan. UPDATE--Sunday (July 10) 6:15 p.m.: Greenwood County Emergency Management now confirms 152 structures were affected by the Eureka tornado. The list includes 32 structures that were destroyed with another 31 receiving major damage. Another 98 structures were at least affected with some form of minor damage.

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UPDATE--Sunday (July 10) 4 p.m.: Greenwood County Emergency Manager Levi Vinson say the Sunday afternoon opening of the multi-agency resource center has been "very helpful." The resource center, open at the Eureka Community Activity Center is organized to help those most impacted by the July 7 tornado with paperwork and post-disaster planning.

Vinson says almost all of the tree debris in Eureka has been cleared and the next step will be to begin clearing building debris and removing household hazardous waste.

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The cleanup effort continues Saturday in Eureka after an EF2 tornado tore through the town Thursday night and damaged 143 structures.

Large stacks of branches and debris at the end of people's lawns all over town is evidence of the damage, and the cleanup progress. People say it’s something that wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers.

"We’re just trying to get things back to normal, if it ever will be," said Mary Hodgson. She's lived in Eureka for 35 years and experienced her first tornado Thursday.

"We looked out the door and thought, 'Oh my God.' It was a disaster area," Hodgson said.

The tornado tore off the roof to her garage and ripped up the trees on her property, scattering them all over her yard. The storm completely flattened other homes in her neighborhood.

Hundreds of volunteers are now pitching in, trying to help return the town to normal.

"When I drove down the road and saw all this mess, I ’m like they're going to need help, everyone’s going to need help," said Bailee Wallace, a 17-year-old Eureka resident and volunteer.

It’s not an easy job.

"It’s been pretty hot so it’s been pretty hard," said Ben Sunderland, 13, another volunteer.

But they say they’re glad to help.

"We’re a big caring family. We all help each other when things get rough and we all stick together," said Jayte Hamilton, 17, a volunteer.

Hodgson says, it shows the kind of community that makes up Eureka.

"At my age, and my sister is even older, we needed a lot of help and we got it. A lot of awesome, awesome people," Hodgson said.

United Way says they still need help from people who own large chainsaws, and equipment that's capable of moving and clearing trees.

In addition to the challenge of cleanup, others are coming to terms with the damage caused by the tornado.

Elmer Hatcher has lived at the corner of 10th and Elm in Eureka for 18 years. He says the storm snapped a 100-foot tall tree, and part of that tree caught his home - leaving a hole in his roof.

Hatcher says insurance companies wouldn’t cover his home when he first bought it in the 90's, so he and his wife don't have house insurance.

He and his wife took shelter at a nearby church when the storm hit. He says when he got a first look at the damage to his home, it was heartbreaking.

"I wanted to just get back in the car and leave. There was so much water coming in everywhere," Hatcher said. "It's all we have, so we've got to stick with it," he said.

Hatcher is working with a Christian construction company in Newton to get his roof fixed. He says he's also received a lot of help from his neighbors.

"They’ve been the best ever. We've been working helping each other back and forth for 18 years. They’re the best neighbors you could ever have," Hatcher said.

The storm damaged a total of 143 structures, but no one was hurt – something people around town are calling a miracle. One family Eureka family says one of their pets, was killed during the tornado.

Kayla Rigole’s says she didn’t know a tornado was coming until her brother told her.

They said the tornado was 11 miles out of town and I don’t know how fast it can move, so I was like okay we gotta go now," she said.

Rigole doesn’t have a basement, and rushed to leave and get her daughter and pets to safety.

But she couldn’t find one of her pets – a 12-week old King Shepard puppy, named Cylipso.

"They were born and raised in your home and I bottle fed those pups, so it was hard," Rigole said. "l love my pets but if I have to choose between my kid and my dog, I have to choose my kid first," she said.

Rigole says she's just grateful no people were hurt. Now, she like so many others in town, are waiting to see how much of the damage will be covered by insurance, and exactly what can be saved or rebuilt.