A fourth day of severe weather pounded America’s heartland Wednesday, sending people throughout Kansas and Missouri running to shelter in the face of advancing tornadoes. In Overland Park, Kan., children at the Jewish preschool run by the Chabad House Center of Kansas City lined up in a hallway when a twister touched down four miles south of them just before noon.

Thankfully, said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, no one was hurt, a result that appeared to hold throughout the day, even as a line of rotating super cell thunderstorms spawned more tornadoes in a fast march to the north and northeast. Although 15 people were injured in nearby Sedalia, Mo., no one lost their lives, a far cry from the 14 that died on Tuesday in Oklahoma and Missouri and the at least 122 claimed in Sunday’s infamous Joplin, Mo., tornado – the deadliest in United States history.

“We get tornado warnings all the time,” said Wineberg, who grew up in the area. “Suddenly, though, they are wiping things out, so we’re all watching the weather a little more carefully.”

The National Weather Service confirmed that the swarm of tornadoes Wednesday appeared to be very weak.

In Oklahoma City, where several tornadoes smashed through suburbs in the capital during the afternoon rush hour Tuesday, residents said that the downtown area emerged relatively unscathed.

“We’re lucky,” said Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City. “It hit neighboring communities, and there was quite a bit of destruction, but Oklahoma City got kind of lucky. It went north and it went south.”

Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life and Learning, confirmed that assessment. He rode out Tuesday’s storms in a mall basement shelter with his wife and children. When he returned home, their neighborhood was fine. Others he passed weren’t so lucky.

“Thank G‑d, our area was spared,” he said.

Much of Tuesday’s destruction centered on the small town of Piedmont, Okla., where rescue workers searched for a three-year-old boy who lost his 15-month-old brother. His mother and another sister were injured when the storm hit.

“My husband and I were driving around yesterday and went past a house and there was a vehicle in the pond in the front yard,” Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson told the Associated Press. “The only way I could tell it was a vehicle was I could see four wheels above the water. It was a crushed ball.”

Israeli expatriate and Joplin tornado survivor Omer Mani, left, embraces Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yehuda Weg, who brought supplies from Tulsa, Okla.
Israeli expatriate and Joplin tornado survivor Omer Mani, left, embraces Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yehuda Weg, who brought supplies from Tulsa, Okla.

Old-Fashioned Miracle

In Tulsa, Rabbi Yehuda Weg, the director of Chabad of Oklahoma who rushed across state-lines Monday to locate some missing friends in Joplin, said that authorities seemed to have things under control in that town. He described scenes of unimaginable destruction, with rescue crews searching house by house and keeping everyone else out of the disaster zone. At least 1,500 people were still unaccounted for in Joplin.

“I don’t have words,” Weg, who was still stunned after returning home Wednesday, surmised. “Miles and miles and miles of destruction; rubble, endless miles of rubble. There’s like nothing that’s standing.

“The trees are all naked,” he continued, “just sticking out of the ground.”

In Joplin, Weg – who has been travelling to the town for years to learn Torah with locals and supervise kosher food production at several area plants – brought food and clothing for those who contacted him, and anyone else who was in need. He got one man out of a shelter and saw him safe and sound in a motel.

“He had an old-fashioned miracle,” Weg related. “He had dozed off on his couch and woke up feeling something was wrong. The thought of a tornado crossed his mind, and he decided that the room he was in was not a good place to stay. He walked into one of the bedrooms and as he did, the garage just flew away.

“He did not hear any sirens,” the rabbi added. “He said there were no sirens until later.”

Weg noted that in spite of the devastation, he saw “a lot of good people helping others.”

“It’s all very jarring,” he said. “There’s police and army all over the place. It’s an experience I hope these people never have to have again.”