Prairie Band Potawatomi reach out to help Kansas tornado victims

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MAYETTA, Kan. - When Tribal Chairman Badger Wahwasuck read about a tornado that struck Hoisington, he said he was determined to do something to help.

Two hundred buildings were destroyed, one man killed and 28 others injured when the spring storm came out of "nowhere" April 21. As soon as Wahwasuck got to work Monday, he called officials in Hoisington and asked if they needed cleanup crews or construction people to help in the cleanup.

He said he was assured there were plenty of volunteers. But Wahwasuck said he felt there had to be something the tribe could do to help out their fellow Kansans.

With money set aside for charitable donations, the tribal council decided to donate $50,000 to the American Red Cross with a specific request to give $25,000 to the people of Hoisington for disaster relief. By noon that day the check was cut.

Hoisington is a small town of about 3,000 people in central Kansas, just south of Great Bend. Saturday, April 21 it was ground zero for an F-4 tornado. Power was knocked out before the storm hit, so the tornado sirens never went off.

Gerald Tauscher, the only storm fatality, was standing, waiting for the sirens to go off before he joined his wife in the couple's basement. He never made it and later was found under a mini-van in the couple's backyard.

The high school, which was having its prom, lost its roof as students ran to seek shelter in a basement tornado shelter. The local hospital was evacuated.

Wahwasuck said he saw it as the worst nightmare of those living in "Tornado Alley" coming true.

Asked about ties the tribe had to Hoisington, Wahwasuck said simply, "We're both in Kansas."

He added that with more than a week of spring storms under their belts, Kansans anywhere could have been hit like Hoisington. "It could have just as easily be here," Wahwasuck said. "If that had happened, you can bet that town would have been here to help us."

Wahwasuck was right. His reservation had a close encounter of its own with severe weather the night before the Hoisington tornado. In Topeka, sirens sounded as radar indicated a tornado was sweeping over the northern end of the town, headed for the Mayetta area.

Fortunately the tribe escaped with little if any damage, unlike Hoisington.

To add insult to injury to the people of Hoisington, heavy rains following the storm caused flooding. All of this was too much for the tribal chairman to stand.

"I knew when I came in here on Monday that we had to do something," Wahwasuck said. "We sat down and decided that it was a good thing (the donation) and we had to do it."

With forecasters in Kansas predicting a stormy spring season, Wahwasuck said he hoped the other $25,000 the tribe donated wouldn't have to be used for storm disaster relief. "We hate to see another town get hit like that.

"It's scary, it could happen anywhere. I was in Shawnee when it got hit by a tornado," the chairman said. "People came from everywhere to help us. We wanted to help the people in Hoisington. We are part of this community, we are part of this state and those are people who need help."