A two-minute twister

Saturday, February 18, 2006

BENTON, Mo. -- A tornado hit the area northeast of Benton at 7:18 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service said Friday.

The tornado destroyed two garage structures, damaged eight or nine houses, and felled more than 50 trees in the area near the junction of Highway 77 and Route E.

The two garage structures belonged to neighbors Jim Glastetter and Rodney Huffman. Both buildings were unoccupied, and no one was hurt.

But according to their families, that the structures were empty was extraordinary.

"I just can't get over that it happened last night because every night Jim and Rodney are in each other's shops working," said Glastetter's wife, Laurie. "One night it'll be over here and then the next over there. But last night Rodney had something with Boy Scouts, so both shops were empty. It's incredible."

The National Weather Service characterized the tornado as an F-1 on the Fujita scale of 0 to 5. It had an estimated wind speed of 110 miles per hour.

"I felt like I was in a tunnel, you know, like that pressure you get in your ears when a plane is taking off. I've never felt anything like it," Laurie Glastetter said.

The tornado came and went suddenly.

The Glastetters and their daughters, Jamie and Elizabeth, were watching "Survivor" when the tornado touched down along the ridge next to Route E where the family lives and passed fewer than 50 feet from the house.

"I didn't even have time to get downstairs before it was all over, I was right at the top of the stairs ready to go down to the basement and then ... all quiet," Jim Glastetter said.

But during what the National Weather Service is calling two minutes of tornadic activity the twister had time to obliterate the family's 28-by-56-foot corrugated iron and wood frame shed. Iron sheets, tools and wood planks were flung as far as a half-mile to the north and debris blocked traffic on Route E in front of the house for several hours.

The family's johnboat was wrapped around a tree 300 yards away, and a wooden two-by-four was driven three feet into the ground mere steps away from the home.

The Glastetter house, however, was left undamaged.

"We're all safe; that's the important thing. It could have been a lot worse," said Jim Glastetter.

The National Weather Service said the tornado measured half a mile long and 225 yards wide. It traveled from Benton to 1.7 miles to the northeast before losing strength. The service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 7:24 p.m. -- just minutes after the tornado struck.

Next-door neighbor Kathy Huffman was also watching television with her two children when the tornado hit.

"We started hearing the hail, big balls of hail, and then all of a sudden the power went off and it sounded like a freight train was coming in from the south, so we ran down to the basement and as soon as we got there it was over," she said.

In that short period of time the tornado had destroyed the Huffmans' 40-by-80-foot corrugated metal garage. It had also ripped the shingles off the roof of the family's home and snapped trees three feet in diameter in the yard. Rodney Huffman estimates the damage at between $40,000 and $50,000.

But even though the family found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, the disaster has shown them they live in a community where they can depend on one another.

"People in this area are the best in the world, they've been giving me all kinds of help," Rodney Huffman said. "Already today a couple of buddies have patched up the roof before the snow comes through. We've hauled away nine trailer loads of stuff to a friend's storage space. It's just really nice how people have chipped in."

"We've got each other, and we're OK," Kathy Huffman said. "It was a horrible thing, but we're going to be fine."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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