PITTSBURG — Crawford County and City of Pittsburg officials hosted a news conference Tuesday to address concerns following a serious storm and apparent tornado that hit the area Monday, resulting in downed trees and power lines and damage to structures.
Local officials and the National Weather Service were still not able to confirm that the storm technically qualified as a tornado as of Tuesday morning. In 2003 a tornado touched down in Franklin and in 2016 one hit near Fort Scott. Other than that, though storms have caused damage in Pittsburg, none have technically counted as tornadoes in at least several decades.
“About 4:15 yesterday we had what we think is a tornado touch down south of Pittsburg,” said Crawford County Emergency Manager Jason VanBecelaere during Tuesday’s conference.
The storm came out of Cherokee County and across Crawford County before moving into Missouri, VanBecelaere said, causing considerable damage near Pittsburg, particularly to roofs and outbuildings in the area of Langdon Lane south of the city, though no serious damage to residences, injuries, or fatalities were known to have occurred as of Tuesday morning.
“At this point we’ve got storms coming in today so we’ve kind of halted operations as far as debris removal,” VanBecelaere said. “We did all our search and rescue last night. We searched all the houses, made sure everybody was OK before the second round of storms comes through.”
Crawford County Sheriff Danny Smith said there were other storm-related concerns besides tornado damage.
“Right now the one thing that we’re concerned about is the flooding,” Smith said. “We’ve kind of got over the hump with the tornado — we’re still waiting for the confirmation but we’re pretty sure that’s what we’re looking at.”
Waters are rising and preventing many area roads from being usable, Smith said, and authorities in Missouri have had to make some water rescues.
“We’d hate to have everything go, you know, non-injury with the tornado and then we have a fatality over a drowning on a water rescue,” Smith said, adding that making residents aware of concerns about rising floodwaters was law enforcement’s highest priority as of Tuesday morning, though flooding is far from the only concern.
“It sounds like right now we’ve had some isolated power outages,” Smith said, “so I know the power companies right now are trying to make sure we’re getting our power back to the residents.” Smith said some major transmission lines were downed on 260th Street, less than a mile from the Missouri state line, causing road closures.
VanBecelaere urged residents not to bypass barricades set up by police or emergency management personnel.
“If there is a road that is barricaded, please do not go around it,” he said. “We’ve got it barricaded for a reason.”
Because of flooding, Smith said people should avoid driving at all if possible, as looks can be deceiving. What appears to be an area of shallow water pooling up could actually be much deeper, and could be moving, he said, adding that the area saw about 4.5 to 5 inches of rain from Monday’s storm.
One thing that is not a major concern for authorities is a lack of personnel to deal with the flooding and damage from the storms, Smith said, adding that the Kansas Highway Patrol assisted county officials following Monday’s storms.
“We have a great relationship with all the agencies around here, and so it just takes a phone call,” Smith said. “As far as resources, we can get them here pretty quick.”
The Sheriff’s Department may soon run out of road barricades, Smith said, although it already has more on the way.
VanBecelaere said the storm Monday in Crawford County was officially declared a disaster. Next steps for authorities include assessing damage. Within Pittsburg itself, damage was not as bad as south of town, although there were some downed trees and power poles and damage to the roof of Grubbs Hall at Pittsburg State University.