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Orrick’s May 10 tornado stirs memories of freak January twister

The January 1967 tornado inflicted major damage on Orrick school, resulting in two student deaths. (Richmond News photo)

The January 1967 tornado inflicted major damage on Orrick school, resulting in two student deaths. (Richmond News photo)

By Linda Emley

I was driving around Richmond and went past several empty lots that reminded me of buildings from our past. I miss the old Christian Church and the Women’s Club that were once part of the downtown district.

I then drove by the spot where Sonic sat during my high school years. When I got to the intersection of the old 10-13, I was sad to think that one of the best old diners in town just closed. I went to breakfast with one of my boys there a few months ago and didn’t order my usually omelet. Now I may never get another chance to eat a 10-13 omelet.

This intersection also had Master’s DX and Tippin’s Gas Station, both of which are still standing. There was another building that stood here for many years and I miss it every time I drive by.

This is the place were I remember going with my dad to visit Doc Hewlett. I don’t think he was a real vet, but he could fix em up. We had a cat named Midnight that got his leg caught in a trap and we took him in to Doc on Christmas Eve and he fixed him up and sent him home.

Midnight was one of the happiest three legged cats you would ever met. He learned to hop with one back leg faster than most cats could run.

I’ve been thinking about all the changes around town more the last few days because of all the changes that took place in Orrick this past week. It’s sad to see pieces of our history blow away in the wind. Orrick will never be exactly the same as it was one week ago.

As many know, Orrick got hit by a tornado in 1967 so I pulled out the old Richmond News to get some of the stories.

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1967, the Richmond News headline read, “TORNADO WRECKS ORRICK HIGH SCHOOL. A tornado which struck at 12:50 p.m. today almost completely wrecked the Orrick High School, and a senior, Dennis Barber is reported to be the only fatality this afternoon.

“Serious injuries seem to be held to a minimum, according to a preliminary survey made by school officials.

“One high school student, Danny Blyth, is reported badly injured. He underwent emergency surgery at Ray County Memorial Hospital for a head injury.

“A 26-year-old man, Donald Walker, who lives north of Crossroads store, suffered internal injuries. He was transferred to a Kansas City hospital. Mr. Walker, who works nights at Allis-Chalmers, was asleep in his house when the tornado struck. The house with Mr. Walker in it was blown into a nearby pond. Neighbors saw him wallowing around in the mushy water and slid a door of the house into the water for him to crawl up on, then pulled him to shore. His wife and daughter were not home. They had gone to visit Mrs. Walker’s mother, who also lives in the vicinity of the storm.

“Ambulances and doctors converged on the school from Richmond, Lexington and Excelsior Springs and removed the injured to Ray County Memorial Hospital and possibly elsewhere for treatment.

“So far as is known, none of the teachers were hurt in the tornado.

“The lunch hour had just ended when the tornado hit the building. Teachers credit the relatively few number of injuries to previous disaster training given to the students. There were about 130 boys and girls in the high school building when the tornado struck.

“The tornado approached Orrick from the southwest and apparently dipped down and struck the high school building, lifting some, but left a visible path of debris until it dipped again and completely destroyed the Crossroads store and blew the roof off the Battagler Implement building northeast of Orrick.

“The following account of the tornado at Orrick school was told to a News reporter by Nina Harris, 17, a junior in the Orrick High School: ‘The lights blacked out, and glass busted, then everyone started running for the hallways and locker rooms, and we could hear it. I fell partly in the gymnasium and partly in the hall. I could see through the glass door at the end of the hall and all I could see was a ‘black deal’, everything was dark.

“ ‘I got up and tried to help Lydia Danner, whose leg was pinned under a broker board, a part of the roof. Joyce McKown, a freshman, was also pinned, from the waist down, by a part of the roof. I was holding on to Lydia and Joyce.

“ ‘Men and boys, from the school and everywhere, I don’t know where, started trying to get kids out. They lifted the boards and used jacks to get the roof up. The auditorium roof was blown off and the walls of the gymnasium were hit. Glass was broken and chairs strewn about.

“ ‘Practically all of the girls were in the gymnasium since it was time for the physical education class. Everyone was scared and didn’t know what to do.’ ”

This edition of the News had two pictures and both were of the high school. The next edition on Wednesday, Jan. 25, had more details and three pictures that covered the whole front page. The headlines read,”Orrick – Grieved but Thankful – Picks Up Pieces.” The other articles were, “Richmond FD to Orrick,”“Federal Aid to Be Sought” and “Red Cross Moves Fast to Disaster.”

All of these stories were very interesting, but I was amused by the one about the “Richmond FD to Orrick” because it shows how much things have changed since 1967.

“A severe storm alert was received in Richmond at 10 a.m. Tuesday and a second report at 11 a.m. Still said there would high winds, large hail and possibly tornados, Melvin Hicks, fire chief and Civil Defense Director for Richmond, told the News today.

“When the storm began to form, Sheriff J.R. Stockton drove to Todd’s Chapel Hill west of Richmond, from which point he could see southwest across the valley for many miles. He watched the storm to see if it was going to strike Richmond.

“Chief Hicks said when the fire bell sounded an alarm, it was a long-distance operator from Kansas City calling to say a cyclone had hit the Orrick High School. He immediately radioed Sheriff Stockton and was preparing to alert Richmond.

“Sheriff Stockton told him he could see the tornado and was watching it. He said for Chief Hicks to get all of the doctors, ambulances, nurses he could and alert the hospital.

“Excelsior Springs and Carrollton are in radio contact with Richmond and immediately reported they were sending all of the aid they could. Chief Hicks called Lexington by telephone and they sent aid.

“Sheriff Stockton reported back by radio that the storm had missed Richmond. He said it crossed 10 west of Richmond and he was on his way to Orrick.

“Chief Hicks then alerted local volunteers, firemen and left for Orrick. He was accompanied by Norman James, Howard White, J.W. Thacker and Jim Williams.

“Raymond Smith was at City Hall when the alarm came in, and he with Bill Williams remained at the fire station in case of any fire calls here. Eugene Miller, city marshall, stayed on the radio to receive and send calls.

“The Richmond firemen spent about three hours in Orrick. He said the civilian-band radio operators had picked up the call for help and many came to give assistance. Among those going from here were Bennie Tippins, Smith Brothers and Elwood Kraft, who also took his wrecker. Mr. Hicks said that firemen and highway patrolmen ‘fell out of the sky.’ However, before the officers arrived, he said the area was jammed with cars and people who had heard the news on radio and TV, hampering the movement of emergency vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks. Cool headedness of the 300 to 400 men who were helping clear the debris was commended by Mr. Hicks. He said ‘Everyone from everywhere, worked like beavers.’ ”

More Orrick stories are coming in the next edition.

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