Survivors remember Kansas City’s deadliest tornado 64 years later

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. –  Thursday marked 64 years since the worst weather disaster on record for Kansas City.

On the evening of May 20, 1957, an F5 tornado touched down southwest of Kansas City and traveled a distance of 71 miles, according to the National Weather Service.

It was a time before most people had the ability to get urgent tornado warnings. By the time the tornado that touched down near Williamsburg, Kansas made its way to Missouri, some but not all Hickman Mills and Ruskin Heights homeowners were aware of the massive twister heading their way. The width of the storm ranged from about 100 yards to nearly a half-mile wide.

“Basically my father looked out the window and saw the storm hitting the high school which was a block and a half away. So there was hardly any time to make a decision and there were hardly any basements in the area,” Carolyn Brewer, 71, said.

Some people tried to drive away from the nearly half mile wide F-5 tornado, others headed for a nearby church with a basement. Then 7 year old Carolyn Brewer’s home was severely damaged, but not nearly as bad as hundreds of others.

“Across the street for 3-4 blocks there was nothing. Some of those houses had been blown down to their foundations,” Brewer said.

The day before the new Ruskin High School was set to graduate its second class, it quite literally was reduced to R-U-I-N, the only letters that remained on a brick wall that remained.

“Those are pictures you are never going to get out of your mind,” Sandy Sexton said.

The Ruskin Heights Homes Association rededicated a memorial and dozens of trees to the victims in Ottawa and Spring Hill Kansas, Martin City, Grandview, Knob Town, Hickman Mills and Ruskin Heights Missouri.  44 people lost their lives and 531 people were injured. Damage from the tornado was estimated at $2.5 million. 

Meanwhile Brewer has focused on the survivors, more than 500 people injured that Monday night. She’s written two books, the second focused on the children “Caught Ever After” in the storm’s path. Hundreds of people Thursday on A Facebook page by the same name shared memories of the fateful night

“It’s something that stays with people and you can tell by the Facebook page that people still want to tell their stories.”

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