At least one tornado tore through the Wichita, Kansas, area late Friday, damaging dozens of buildings, officials said.
Worst hit appeared to be the town of Andover, which is about 14 miles east of Wichita.
“We’re currently rescuing people from their homes because they’re unable to navigate the debris,” Wichita Fire Chief Tammy Snow told CNN in a phone interview.
Snow added that 12 people suffered minor injuries.
An estimated 50 to 100 structures were damaged in the Wichita area, Jim Jonas, the city’s director of communications, told CNN in a phone interview.
One such structure was the YMCA community center in Andover, city administrator Jennifer McCausland said. In addition, “several homes and cars were damaged,” she told CNN in a phone interview. “The biggest struggle right now is to get the roads clear.”
Employees and customers at Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy Store hid in the bathroom as the tornado passed nearby, which cut their power.
“We could see it right across from our business,” said Sierra Dobbie, a store manager. “It was pretty scary. I work with a bunch of kids, and I needed to get them to a safe spot.”
Law enforcement were doing door-to-door check-ins on Andover residents, according to Chad Crittenden, a spokesperson for the Kansas Highway Patrol.
“We are uncertain about the extent of the damage, emergency crews are responding,” the police department said on Facebook.
The National Weather Service in Wichita said it will send out teams Saturday to conduct damage surveys.
The twister was one of multiple tornadoes to touch down in Kansas, according to Gov. Laura Kelly, who declared a state of disaster emergency.
“We have learned from past experience that we can’t wait for the storm to hit before we respond,” Kelly said. “By taking these steps early we are able to more quickly react when the counties ask for assistance.”
As of 1:25 a.m. ET Saturday, there were more than 20,000 homes and businesses without power in Kansas, according to PowerOutage.us.
In all, 15 tornadoes — 14 of which were across Kansas or Nebraska — were reported Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center. The other tornado was in Florida, the center said.
Additionally, there have been more than 70 reports of wind damage and over 50 reports of hail.
In Enterprise, Kansas, there was hail up to four inches in diameter
Drought woes in the West
Meanwhile, the West is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in decades, and the fire season has not only started early, but has been setting records.
Since January, over a million acres have burned, well above the year-to-date average of around 632,000 acres. New Mexico has been especially hit hard with 5 large fires currently burning, and the forecast for the next couple of days offers no chance of a break.
New Mexico has already reached its annual rate of fire activity and it’s only April.
“Our season started earlier than in the past,” says Andrew Church, a National Weather Service meteorologist with the Albuquerque office.
“Because of climate change and the mega-drought across the western US, there’s just no moisture in the soil anymore,” he goes on to say.