HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Hutchinson residents who went to the city’s law enforcement center during a tornado earlier this month were allowed to stand in the lobby but couldn’t go to the basement because officials said it was a restricted area.
It was an example of why no public tornado shelters are advertised or available in Hutchinson because of liability and safety concerns, The Hutchinson News reported.
When about two dozen people went to the center as an EF3 tornado hit near Hutchinson on July 13, they were allowed only in the lobby.
“It was uncomfortable and surprising to everyone involved,” said Natasha Russell. “We were told we couldn’t go down into the basement. Standing in the lobby was dangerous behind all that glass. We were fine, thank God.”
Hutchinson Police Capt. Troy Hoover said sheltering at the center is “not an option.” The center’s basement contains several computers, security concerns, sensitive information and evidence.
Hoover said the circumstances might be different if the tornado was near the law enforcement center. The July 13 tornado came down several miles outside of Hutchinson.
“If the tornado was in town and close to the law enforcement center and it was imperative to get shelter immediately, we would obviously consider the protection of the people, but it never got close,” Hoover said.
Evan Seiwert, Reno County Emergency Management specialist, said officials don’t want to encourage people to leave home and drive to a shelter during a tornado. Reno County Emergency Management does not maintain a list of possible shelters. Officials also don’t want people to rely on public buildings or businesses being open after hours during a storm because of liability issues if someone is killed or injured, he said.
Becky Hughes, director at Open Door Pregnancy, said a group of workers drove a few blocks to the law enforcement center because the pregnancy center doesn’t have a basement and the building they normally use was closed.
“We were all kind of panicking,” Hughes said. “If there was immediate danger, they would’ve immediately let us in.”
The tornado landed about 6 to 7 miles northwest of Hutchinson and traveled about 5.3 miles. One house was destroyed, cars were damaged and trees and power lines were downed. No serious injuries were reported.
Emergency management officials encourage the public to seek shelter at home or with a neighbor and said those living in mobile homes should seek safety if the park they reside in doesn’t offer a shelter.
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