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Tornado destroys house, historic barn in rural Nehawka

Tornado destroys house, historic barn in rural Nehawka

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On the morning of May 9, Pat and Jim Joyner of rural Nehawka counted themselves very lucky.

They had moved most of their belongings -- from their 150-year-old barn into their new log home -- which replaced their beloved historic residence destroyed by a fire in 2015.

Their luck, however, was tested by late afternoon when a tornado headed straight toward their property in a slow-moving but determined path of destruction.

“Jim took a snapshot of the tornado coming at us and then we went into the basement. We sat under the basement stairs with furniture and blankets around us with our two dogs and granddaughter,” Pat said.

For the next 22 minutes, they did not know if their home was still standing. “We couldn’t tell what was going on. There was so much of the softball-sized hail, our world was thunderous,” Pat said. “We felt the house pressurize and depressurize.”

When the tornado subsided, they came out of the basement to find their new house still standing and the ground covered with hail. “It started out golf ball sized and got bigger,” Pat said.

The house suffered some damage, but the power was still working. “When they built the house, they ran the power lines underground, so it’s fine,” she said.

The hail took its toll on the windows. “Every screen will have to be replaced. The back of the house looks like someone threw hundreds of bucks of mud and debris on it. It will take us years to clean up,” she said.

They were especially disheartened to find their historic barn -- which provided them a home while the new house was constructed -- demolished. “The floor is still there but everything else is gone. The stuff we had in there is still sitting there. We had moved most of what we had in there into the house, but there were still some things there. I think I saw my cedar chest.”

The chest, an heirloom built by her grandfather, sheltered the only family quilts the fire had not destroyed.

A grain bin, original to the property and that Pat had turned into a gazebo, was also gone. “There is nothing there but a slab of concrete,” she said.

The tornado downed the trees on the property. “The oak tree in the middle of our driveway is gone. All the trees around us are gone,” Pat said. “The orioles had just come back this week. They usually build their nests in that tree. They are now hopping around trying to figure out what to do,” she said.

Like they did when the fire destroyed their home, the Joyners are trying to look at the positive side. “The orioles haven’t left us yet. They are just looking for a new home.”

Seventy-six-year-old rural Nehawka resident Robin Stoll is lucky to be alive after Monday’s tornado, but not fortunate enough to have his home still standing.

According to Cass County Emergency Management Agency Director Sandy Weyers, Robin didn’t make it into his house by the time the tornado arrived. He “grabbed hold of a tree and rode it out.”

He and the dog are safe, but the home, 30 miles south of Omaha, was totally destroyed after the roof and outer walls collapsed.

“I’ve been out there a lot and he seems to be fine. He went to the doctor this morning for a laceration on his leg. He is devastated of course. His house is a total loss and some outbuildings are damaged,” Sandy said. “There is also a tree down.”

Sandy said Robin and his dogs were in his shed when the storm started. “They were sitting there waiting for the hail to quit when he saw the tornado and tried to make it to the house. The dog dived under the deck, which is still standing. The wind pushed him into a tree, so he wrapped himself around it and held on.”

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Sandy said they believe the winds from the tornado were 100-130 mph.

“John Knabe’s had a barn behind Joyner’s house that is also a total loss,” Weyers said.

As far as she knows, no humans or livestock died due to the storm. There were kittens on the Joyner’s property that didn’t make it. Robin’s neighbors are helping clean up his property and secure what is worth saving.

Although owners, employees and guests of Slattery’s Vintage Estates in rural Nehawka watched the tornado, it never touched down on the property. Barb Slattery and her daughter, Sarah Slattery, watched the tornado from the living room where they were fearful at first. Seeing how slow-moving this tornado was, however, Sarah began videotaping its 22-minute ride through Cass County.

Barb said they kept the basement door open in case the tornado approached, but some of their guests watched it while standing outside.

“We didn’t get a drop of rain and the birds kept singing. We didn’t feel unsafe,” Barb said.

Barb said even the hail was not too much of a problem. “About five lemon-sized chunks of hail fell but they didn’t hit anything,” she said.

Ron Nolte, who lives on Church Road between 54th and 60th Streets, said his property received over five inches of rain Monday.

“I have a five-inch rain gauge and the rain overflowed it. One of the men who works for me lives west of Union and he said the highway there was dry,” Ron said.

The rain was so heavy Ron said it was difficult to see the tornado. “It was eight miles away from me. This tornado took the same path as one did about 30 years ago,” Ron said.

Ron said that tornado, which hit in 1984, damaged machine sheds and equipment on John Knabe’s farm, and took down Dave Meredith’s home off of Weeping Water Road.

“The tornado yesterday was less than one-half a mile apart from the way that one tracked,” he said.

Sandy said the tornado at Robin’s house wasn’t the only rotation in Cass County yesterday. “There was also one west of Highway 75 on Hobscheidt Road and one at 84th and Weeping Water Road,” she said.

Sandy said she was on the west side of the county when the storm hit. “The storm system in the Eagle and Greenwood area never seemed to move. Then, all of a sudden this happened,” she said.

Getting back from Eagle to Robin’s property took her 45 minutes due to the constant hail coming down. “The size of it varied. Some was larger than a golf ball and other hail was nickel- or dime-sized,” she said. “It was relentless with the hail but even with the other two tornados, there weren’t the straight winds that sometimes accompany such storm system.”

Circumstances proved unusual for this time of year.

“It was a storm that developed and you can’t warn for that. The weather service is good at forecasting but you’re not able to forecast them all.”

CCEMA turned on the sirens and called spotters as soon as possible, Sandy said. “We acted as quickly as we could when dealing with two separate storm systems, which typically doesn’t happen. I guess all the planets were aligned just right.”

Forecasts for the rest of the week look good with sunshine in the prediction for Thursday through Monday.


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