6 months after the storm, tornado victims rebuild their homes and lives

Dan Wapelhorst sits on the porch of his new home near Hoisington. A tornado destroyed his home on May 16, 2017. (KSN Photo)
Hoisington tornado (Courtesy: Patrick Kephart)

BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Thursday marks six months since an EF-3 tornado ripped through Barton County, destroying several homes and damaging anything in its path.

Dan and Joyce Wapelhorst and their daughter rushed to the shelter, narrowly missing the tornado. When they came out, they found their home destroyed.

“He told me and Katie that there’s nothing left. We thought he meant the garden. He said ‘No, nothing anywhere is left,’” recalled Joyce.

As the two sat together on a brand new couch, in their brand new home, they can’t help but remember the day they almost lost their lives.

RELATED LINK | Tornadoes rip through Barton County causing damage

“The big thing is the wind,” said Joyce. “You hear noises and you’re like ‘Oh my god, is it coming again?’”

The days and months go by, but it doesn’t get any easier for the two.

“I get through it in the daytime alright,” said Dan, “But when I go to bed then I think about what all happened and what we all lost. It’s hard.

Joyce Wapelhorst looks at the damage from the tornado. (KSN File Photo)

Even after losing everything, the Wapelhorsts didn’t think twice about where they were going to live next. The couple chose to rebuild their lives right where they were almost taken – about seven miles west of Great Bend, in rural Barton County.

“This has been our home for 37 years,” Joyce explained.

“Been mine for about 70 years,” added Dan.

The tornado destroyed Dan’s childhood home, and for seven weeks, they lived in a family member’s camper. Joyce described it as “no easy task.”

RELATED LINK | Slow progress keeps tornado survivors positive 

It wasn’t long until they found a new home on a lot out in Hays. Their family helped with the prep work, putting in foundation and concrete. After two weeks, the home made its way to Barton County, ready for its new owners.

“We have a brand new house, brand new furniture, and it’s still not home,” Joyce Wapelhorst

Dan said he was glad they were finally going to live inside a house.

Dan and Joyce Wapelhorst show KSN a photo of their home before the tornado. (KSN Photo)

He quickly started working on making the new home feel like “home.”

Walking through his garden that was once destroyed, Dan showed off all the fruits and vegetables he replanted. The tornado helped him plant lettuce too.

“It just scattered the seed all over and they’re just coming up everywhere,” he said.

Dan also built a shop behind the garage. If he’s not working on his garden, he could be found in there.

Do you know who else you can find in there?

Sleeping peacefully on his bed, sitting on top of the wooden beams in the garage, you’ll find Rascal — the Wapelhorsts’ cat that went missing after the tornado hit. Dan looked everywhere for Rascal before finally giving up.

Rascal, the Wapelhorst’s pet cat, survived the tornado and was found 10 days later. (KSN Photo)

“About 10 days later, he was sitting out there on that rock by the pond out there, and here he come walking up,” Dan said with a smile on his face. “I just couldn’t believe it that he was alive, and he didn’t have a scratch on him.”

The transition into the new home hasn’t been as easy for Joyce.

“We have a brand new house, brand new furniture, and it’s still not home,” she said.

Although the days don’t get any easier, she shared that her grandson gets her through each day. He visits and helps grandma and grandpa.

“We tried to have him dig that pipe out of that dirt pile,” said Dan.

According to the Wapelhorsts, volunteers helped and continue to help them recover from the tornado.

“You just couldn’t believe the good people out there,” Dan said. “Don’t even know some of them and they come wanna do something.”

RELATED LINK | Cross left untouched by tornado near Great Bend

Joyce pulled out an envelope of pictures of the tornado aftermath. The two looked at the pictures and said they can only feel thankful – thankful that they’re alive.

It may be a new chapter for the two, but as they turn the pages together, that’s all they need to feel at “home.”

“As long as I know he’s okay,” said Joyce. “I’m okay.”


Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download our News App and our Weather App for your phone and tablet. Follow and like us on Facebook and Twitter.