Andover YMCA employees share stories of survival, heroism from April 29 tornado

The Andover YMCA took a direct hit during Friday evening's tornado on April 29, 2022.
The Andover YMCA took a direct hit during Friday evening's tornado on April 29, 2022.(Ryan Smith)
Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 6:26 PM CDT
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ANDOVER, Kan. (KWCH) - The Greater Wichita YMCA is sharing the stories of its employees who were inside the Andover branch when it took a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado. The Y interviewed seven employees about their experiences and measures they took to save lives on April 29.

Antonio, a membership manager, said he remembers getting the tornado warning on his phone. He said he called his director and found the “red book,” which is a list of procedures. On that day, he turned to page 10 for what to do when there’s a tornado.

“I love ‘cause it’s so sequential. Like, everything’s in a list and it’s right in order. It’s right where you need it,” he said.

The other employees recalled Tony (Antonio) calling over the intercom for everyone to come to the front of the building. Some wanted to stay, and others wanted to leave. Their goal was to get everyone to stay - and stay safe.

“It was a good 50/50 people either stay or leave,” said Wesley, a former member associate. “It was just trying to get people to stay. But it was just, it was hard.”

“I feel like people didn’t think it was real, because like when we were outside, it kept going back up and then it would come back down. So, people didn’t think that it was actually going to happen. But, then you could see the debris all flying at the bottom,” recalled Morgan, a membership associate.

They found shelter in the locker room of the building.

“I just spent a lot of time yelling. Getting people to go to where they needed to be. People just wanted to stand out there in awe...dazed and everything,” said Antonio. “I was pretty flustered, but we got it done.”

Today marks six weeks since the Dr. Jim Farha Andover YMCA took a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado. For Andover Y staff...

Posted by Greater Wichita YMCA on Friday, June 10, 2022

Morgan said she found Kayla, a lead lifeguard, in the locker room. They both reached out to their family. Then, the pressure dropped and they lost power.

“I was the last one to close the door,” recalls aquatics director, Bryan. “Right as I was closing the door, I felt that pressure drop, so I slammed it and started running to get under the sink.”

Antonio recalls a member holding his son and praying. He said he started praying too.

“I held on to him and started praying too. God is good. For sure,” he said.

When they emerged from the locker rooms, the employees said they didn’t expect the Y to be “ripped apart.” They realized while they could only hear what sounded like “the wind,” devastation was only steps away.

“Like the ELC part, which is like four feet away from the locker room, it was completely demolished,” said Logan, a member associate. “It’s surprising that wasn’t us.”

With the building destroyed, the seven employees said they thought they’d lost their jobs. But, the Andover Y’s 135 staff were moved to assignments at nine other branch locations in Wichita, El Dorado and Newton. Those wishing to make donations can submit them at //ymcawichita.org/give

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