On the road with Geni: May 2009

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Sarah Mills, DVM, stands next to a crumpled stock trailer a tornado flung across the road from her house in Chapman, Kan. 

I drove today through the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas that are green and dotted with cow-calf pairs. I was on my way to Chapman, Kan., to take a cover photo of Sarah Mills, DVM. Though unrelated to the article I’m featuring Mills in, we spent a long time talking about the upcoming June 11th 1-year anniversary of the tornado that barreled through Chapman, taking out 65 homes, churches, barns, irrigation pivots, equipment and historic sites. Mills, who has a mobile veterinary practice, and her husband and two boys had their home destroyed along with outbuildings, feed bunks and other parts of their farm, while Mills and her sons were in the basement. I took this photo of Mills standing next to a pretzel of a stock trailer that had been behind their home and ended up across the road in a field. The devastation in the town was so complete that even Extreme Home Makeover visited the town and did some rebuilding.

Livestock hazards
Fortunately loss of human lives and livestock were few. A couple of Mills’ own cows didn’t survive. What they still face is the constant debris pick up from pastures such as nails, shingles, pieces of metal and more. Mills says she gave their own cows magnets to help pick up ingested nails and other metal. They hand fed round bales because of the debris embedded in them. When they burned pastures, Mills says it uncovered a lot more debris that had been hidden under the grass for months. Some trees around town still have assorted pieces of metal and other flotsam and jetsam caught in their branches.

Once the “drama” wore off post-tornado, Mills says volunteers to their community faded away, and that most of those volunteers had concentrated on folks in town, but those on farms were not given much attention throughout the aftermath. But that’s where the spirit of rural America took over. Mills says the farm folk checked on each other and helped each other out after the tornado to build fences, share equipment and rebuild. “People in agriculture are different,” Mills says. “We had a lot of neighbor response from surrounding farms.”

Lessons learned
Mills says she learned a couple of things from the experience. First, get into a basement if you can. A large beam impaled the center of her house, and she said if they had been in the hallway, they would have been hit. Second, she said the advice she has heard about crawling into a cement feed bunk during a tornado is not the wisest choice. I looked in awe at the row of cement feed bunks behind her house that were torn from their moorings and flung on top of each other 10 feet away. A person would have been crushed had they taken shelter there.

The Mills have a new house now, but all around their property is evidence of the devastation, including the pile of rubble just down the hill that had been a tiny, historic Catholic church. Nature needs respect – she grows the grass to feed the cattle to feed the people, but she can take it away in an instant.



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