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McConnell Airmen assist Andover tornado recovery efforts

  • Published
  • By Airman Brenden Beezley
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Team McConnell is assisting the city of Andover, Kansas, in tornado recovery as the community was devastated by an EF-3 tornado April 29, 2022.

According to the National Weather Service’s Wichita Kansas Office, their Preliminary Damage Survey reveals the tornado touched down in eastern Sedgwick County and moved northeast for 12.9 miles through the city of Andover, with estimated peak wind speeds of 155 mph.

The morning after the storm, McConnell’s base leadership quickly reached out to Ronnie Price, Mayor of Andover, and Chad Russel, Andover Fire Chief, offering McConnell’s volunteer support to help with the aftermath of the tornado in Andover.

Starting May 1, 2022, the clean-up process began, and coordination between city officials and the base was well underway to provide the right amount of volunteers, when and where needed. “While patience is difficult, sending too many volunteers, or the wrong skill sets, into a recovery zone introduces more problems than solutions. We can only move as fast as the recovery will allow,” said Col. Vogel, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander.

McConnell’s Emergency Operations Center and first sergeants found 51 Airmen with experience who were ready to volunteer and fulfill the city’s need for three-person chainsaw crews.

On May 2, 2022, 75 Airmen went to volunteer in Andover, focusing their attention on Andover Central Park and Andover City Hall.

“I hope I’m making a difference; I feel like I am,” said Airman 1st Class Mikala Thurman, 22nd Health Care Operations mental health technician. “Being in mental health, I expected I could have to help with natural disasters through my work, but I never expected I would actually be out cleaning up the damage from a tornado.”

On May 3, 2022, Andover city officials determined that sending volunteers into the impacted neighborhoods was safe. Crews spent the previous days cutting power to downed lines, followed by an assessment of needs by disaster first responders.

Approximately 150 Airmen, alongside citizens from Andover and communities across Kansas, took to the streets taking on a large amount of destruction.

“It’s crazy, when I got here, I went into the basement of the first house we were helping with, and I saw the kids’ room. It was hard, you feel that connection, and you know that they have to (replace) all (their belongings),” said Airman Rebecca Ellison, 22nd Operational Medical Readiness Squadron dental technician. “The dad was there and he was telling us where they hid. It was a lot to take in.”

Organizers gave volunteers their work assignments and teams when they checked in to volunteer. When they arrived, they cleaned up the damage, creating piles of debris by the street to be picked up by crews and separating intact personal belongings.

The clean-up process is ongoing and McConnell will continue to work with the city of Andover, providing support until the city has recovered.