Eureka tornado damage

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

When a tornado tore through Eureka on June 26, it set into motion an emergency response team that was put together nearly two years ago.

Among those statewide who responded to this emergency were City Manager Nick Hernandez.

Eureka tornado damage

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

“Almost two years ago, I was appointed by the governor to serve on the Commission on Emergency Planning and Response by a recommendation of the League of Kansas Municipalities,” he said.

“As part of my duties for the League, and with the blessing of our amazing City Commission, I get to provide support for communities hit by disasters.”

Hernandez’s responsibilities with this job are to help to guide city managers, governing bodies, and staff through the expectations and realities of the first 48 hours after a disaster such as a tornado or flooding.

“My first major experience in this position was … with Eureka, and let me tell you, you should be proud to be a Kansan! The amount of love and support shown by the good old Kansas spirit was unbelievable,” he said.

“There are some amazingly gifted members in the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, our first responders and our utility providers.”

Eureka tornado overview

Eureka tornado path

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

The route of the June 26 tornado that tore through Eureka.

Shortly after 7 p.m. June 26, a tornado quickly developed on the southwest fringes of Eureka.

The tornado tore across the town from southwest to northeast, causing extensive tree damage along with destroying numerous houses and businesses. In addition, the entire town lost power.

Eureka tornado radar loops

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

Animated radar loops of the tornado as it hit Eureka on June 26.

The tornado attained an EF-3 rating. The preliminary information points to the tornado being on the ground for approximately 17 minutes.

Despite there being little warning of the tornado’s development, there were no deaths, only three major injuries and just eight total injuries.

This is the fourth tornado to produce damage in the community of Eureka, whose high school mascot is the Tornadoes, since 1950.

The path of the June 26 tornado almost perfectly bisected the northwest-to-southeast path of a tornado that hit the town just two years ago.

Hernandez dispatched

Eureka tornado "debris ball"

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

Radar views of the “debris ball” produced by the June 26 tornado that struck Eureka.

Hernandez received the call to respond shortly after the tornado went through Eureka.

He said there wasn’t much he could do when he arrived in the town early the next morning.

Eureka tornado damage

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

Before his arrival, Eureka city staff had not even been able to see the damage firsthand.

“We quickly remedied that,” Hernandez said.

Beside the tree damage and widespread damage to the electrical lines, he said 17 homes had been totaled out before he left Eureka.

“One home was blown 10 feet off its foundation,” Hernandez said.

Learning experience

Eureka tornado damage

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

Hernandez spent most of June 27 and June 28 in the town, assisting primarily with disaster relief coordination and public information.

“We got the city on track, we have a plan and now I’m headed home for a few days” he said June 27.

“Be proud, and thank you, City of Arkansas City and my great commissioners (and) staff, for allowing me to have such a honor and privilege.”

Arkansas City Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe had a lot of similar disaster response experience during his time with the Wichita Fire Department.

“(I’ve) got to say I’m proud of my boss,” Wolfe said.

“This will pay dividends in the long run, having a boss that understands how to react the correct way when tragedy strikes a community.”

Hernandez said the thing that impacted him the most during his time in Eureka was the sheer amount of volunteers that showed up to help.

“It was impressive to see the number of volunteers that just started showing up,” he said, while admitting it also was a logistical challenge.

While Hernandez was working in Eureka, he developed a good relationship with Eureka City Administrator Ian Martell.

“Everyone was working together, in great moods,” Hernandez said of the atmosphere among relief workers following the tornado.

The National Weather Service in Wichita contributed to this story.