Fury in the Flint Hills: Touchdown shatters warm Saturday afternoon

June 8, 1974, started as a warm, humid spring day and ended with disaster as the west edge of Emporia was sheared away by one of the worst tornadoes in the state's recorded weather history.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Harding says the Emporia storm didn't look as impressive as others that day -- and there was a reason for that.

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As the atmosphere began brewing, Emporia Police Officer Mike Lopez was starting his shift. Lopez says officers were asked to be spotters for the day as the threat increased, so he went to Industrial Road near Flinthills Mall.

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Emporia was just outside a tornado watch for the day. With the storm dropping on Emporia's western edge, Harding there was no warning lead time. And that was normal in the 1970s. The average lead time back then: all of three minutes.

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Lopez was very close to the touchdown --

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-- and with the then-Dolly Madison roof coming off and his car shaking, Lopez headed for a nearby ditch.

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Longtime KVOE employee Roger Hartsook was the station's news director at the time. He was helping his mother at her house when the weather started turning bad.

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Lopez went straight for Flinthills Mall afterward. Lopez says the mall was a chaotic scene.

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Hartsook, meanwhile, first went to Lincoln Village -- and if Flinthills Mall was bad, Lincoln Village may well have been worse. Most of the six people killed in the twister died at Lincoln Village. He then went to the mall to provide vital information at a hub of the emergency response effort.

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Hartsook used a pay phone -- about the only thing operating in the mall -- to fill in area residents on what happened.

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Hartsook went back to Lincoln Village along with a part-timer to continue the updates.

The concept was still nearly a decade from being formalized, but Harding says the term supercell definitely applied to the parent thunderstorm.

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Both Newman Regional Health and St. Mary's Hospital were extremely busy afterward as they treated the wounded.

In the second segment, we hear the stories of those who survived the tornado, those who helped the victims and those who relayed their parents' memories from that violent day. Later, we look at how both meteorology and emergency preparedness have changed the past 40 years.

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