‘Just keep going’: Two years after EF-4 tornado, Linwood residents keep rebuilding

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LINWOOD, Kan. — Two years ago Friday, one of the strongest tornados to hit the Kansas City area in decades tore through Linwood, Kansas.

The devastating EF-4 tornado was on the ground for 32 miles, touching down on both sides of the state line doing damage in Douglas and Leavenworth counties in the cities of Lawrence, Eudora, Linwood and Bonner Springs.

As a supercell storm started to build May 28, 2019, Linwood had plenty of warning for the rain-wrapped tornado making its way through Lawrence and Eudora.

Still, it was hard to brace for the 170 mph winds or mile-wide path of destruction by the time it reached homes and a business along K-32.

“We got a call from our neighbor who said it’s all gone, everything’s gone,” Julie Fox said.

Homes across the street and highway were leveled. Her family’s home was still standing, but lost its roof and siding and was unlivable. It took seven months before they could finally return home after living in a hotel, RV, even a room above the garage.

“We look back now, and we wonder how we got through it. But every day you wake up and you just put one foot in front of the next and just keep going,” she said.

They never replaced thousands of feet of fencing and still need to replace the boathouse. But on the eve of the anniversary, they filed their final insurance claim, just under the two-year deadline.

“It’s been a long process. Two years seems like it passed in a blink of an eye, but wow it’s been a long time,” she said.

Last weekend she hosted neighbors for the first time since the tornado, as the final neighbors recently returned to rebuilt homes. All but one family of the dozen homes along K-32 rebuilt.

“It’s a common bond you’ll never get rid of,” Fox said.

The tornado also heavily damaged Free State Growers, a plant wholesaler serving much of the Midwest.

“People see our name, and a lot of people will reach out and say, ‘Aren’t you the guys who had the tornado?’” owner Mark Illausky said.

The massive twister carried pots from the tens of thousands of plants that were destroyed in the greenhouses for dozens of miles. People even returned 30-year-old paperwork that ended up in their yards.

“We’ve had an interesting two years to say the least,” Illausky said.

But now two years later, Free State Growers is just about done rebuilding, for now.

They spent early months trying to salvage the plants they could and keep them alive in temporary greenhouses before installing columns and clearing and pouring concrete to build new ones. 

The company’s owner is proud they were able to keep serving customers as they rebuilt and said the tornado actually led to some improvements.

“We do have a lot more efficiencies. It’s definitely new technology. We do have a lot more automated controls as far as automated watering,” he said.

One employee was at the business during the tornado. He wasn’t seriously hurt and still works there today.

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