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Tornado outbreak deadly

DALLAS — A tornado tossed trees into homes, tore off storefronts and downed power lines but killed no one in a densely populated area of Dallas, leaving Mayor Eric Johnson to declare the city “very fortunate” to be assessing only property damage.

A meteorologist said Monday that people took shelter thanks to early alerts, and that it was fortunate the tornado struck Sunday evening, when many people were home.

“Anytime you have a tornado in a major metropolitan area, the potential for large loss of life is always there,” said Patrick Marsh, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. “We were very fortunate that the tornado did not hit the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium or the State Fair, where you would have had a lot of people that were exposed.”

The tornado crossed over two major interstates. “If that happened at rush hour, I think we’d be talking about a different story,” he said.

The National Weather Service said the tornado that ripped through north Dallas was an EF3, which has a maximum wind speed of 140 mph. The agency said another tornado in the suburb of Rowlett was EF1, with maximum wind speeds of 100 mph.

LM Otero 

Women stand outside a house damaged by a tornado in the Preston Hollow section of Dallas, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The late-night storms spawned tornadoes in several states, killing at least four people in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Storm Prediction Center said severe thunderstorms could continue through Monday night along the Gulf Coast from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, with damaging winds and a couple of tornadoes possible.

In one Dallas neighborhood, Dustin and Lauren Collins said they felt lucky as they cleared debris from the yard of their largely intact home.

“When other people’s homes are in your front yard, you just realize — just the magnitude of the storm,” said Lauren Collins, 36.

Dustin Collins, 37, said he gathered his family together after receiving the tornado alert. They climbed into the bathtub and pulled a mattress over top, huddling there with their 8-month-old son.

“We just sat in the bathtub and sang songs, trying to keep everyone calm,” Lauren Collins said.

At a nearby shopping center, the fronts and roofs of stores were ripped away. Ruptured pipes were still spewing water Monday morning, drenching the piles of mangled drywall, insulation and steel framing inside the brick building.

Nearby, Georges Benamou said he was in his bedroom when a tree branch fell through the flat roof of his single-story home and into the living room.

“I heard some crack, crack, crack, and then I heard some trees falling on top of the roof,” he said.

Brent Huddleston, 43, said he sheltered with his 9- and 11-year-old children in a closet as the house shook around them. They later found parts of street and shopping center signs that had been blown into their yard.

“It hit really fast,” he said.

Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said no firefighters were hurt when the storm made the roof of Station 41 collapse.

The tornado that caused widespread damage in north Dallas passed close to the home of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush but caused no damage. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said in a statement that “the Bushes are safe and praying for their neighbors around DFW who weren’t as fortunate.”

LM Otero 

Tracy Wallace looks at his missing roof after his home was hit by a tornado in Richardson, Texas, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Tornadoes are not common in October, and cities are rarely hit because they don’t have a big footprint in the tornado belt, according to tornado scientist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

It’s like “randomly throwing darts,” Brooks said.

A study by Brooks last year found that only one-third of the most violent tornadoes hit communities of more than 5,000 people.

The storm system disrupted flights in the Dallas area, northwestern Arkansas and at Memphis International Airport in Tennessee, where windows were broken.

One person died when a tree fell on a home in Rogers, Arkansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, according to the Benton County Department of Public Safety. In northeastern Arkansas, an EF1 tornado injured at least five people in Tyronza.

Authorities said severe thunderstorms were responsible for the deaths of at least three people in eastern Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Brooke Arbeitman said two teenage boys died of carbon monoxide poisoning late Sunday in Weleetka, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Oklahoma City. She said the 14- and 15-year-old boys were using a portable gas generator in a travel trailer after the storms knocked out power. The father of the younger boy discovered their bodies Monday morning.

Another person died late Sunday night when a tree blew onto a mobile home near Valliant, about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of Oklahoma City, emergency management officials said.

In Tennessee, the storm downed several large trees in Memphis, blocking roads in residential neighborhoods. The federal weather agency confirmed an EF1 tornado was on the ground for about two minutes early Monday morning. An apartment complex and car dealerships and other businesses suffered damage, but no injuries or deaths were reported.


AP writers Mallika Sen in New York; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Diana Heidgerd in Dallas; Clarice Silber in Austin, Texas; and Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., contributed.

Watson resource team in spotlight at HPS board meeting

The Watson Elementary resource team, which refers to itself as “The Dream Team,” presented on its program to the Hastings Public Schools Board of Education during the regular board meeting Monday evening.

All members of the board were present.

The Watson resource program provides additional support to students who have behavioral and mental challenges.

The program at Watson is unique in that it has all three levels for skills classes. Skills 1 is for students with more severe challenges, while Skills 3 is for kids with less severe challenges.

The resource teachers at Watson work with about 80 students in small groups, one-on-one or simply adjusting classroom assignments to give the children support in school.

“In our room, we try to help kids like school. So kids by the time they come to us, they’ve been in trouble, a lot. They struggled,” said Amber Schultz, a Skills 3 teacher. “So we try to be a place where kids can come to learn. That school is a place they can be successful.”

In addition to hearing from Watson’s resource team, the board heard from Lanae Hall, board president of PFLAG Hastings, during the second public comment opportunity. Hall spoke about the board’s decision not to review the district’s anti-discrimination policy. Hall made the review request during the September board meeting.

The school board decided not to review the policy during October, but President Jim Boeve said the policy is on the board’s radar.

Hall responded to the board’s decision not to review the policy by bringing out a position statement from the Nebraska Department of Education that includes gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation as statuses that should have access to educational equity. PFLAG would like to see those three statuses explicitly included in the HPS anti-discrimination policy.

Hall also asked the board do start initiatives discouraging language historically associated with slurs against LGBTQ individuals, drawing comparisons to how the school has discouraged use of an adjective starting with “r” to describe individuals with developmental disabilities.

“It’s just as demeaning and devaluing and diminishing,” Hall said.

Hall said PFLAG is making this request for initiative after Out Nebraska, an LGBTQ community, held a focus group at Hastings High School.Hall said students reported being harassed by both peers and teachers for their gender identity, gender expression and perceived gender expression.

In other business, the board:

Approved total claims, including payroll, of $3,800,778.48.

Approved the first reading of the revised superintendent evaluation, policy 302.05. The revision pertains to an exhibit about the goals of the superintendent.

Approved continuing membership of the Greater Nebraska Schools Association, which represents about two-thirds of schools in legislation.

Approved a bid for a bus at about $180,000. The state is providing a rebate of about $42,000.

Approved a $5,000 change order for a flagpole at Longfellow Elementary.

Reviewed and reaffirmed the district’s attendance policy. The policy is reviewed annually.

Approved the Hastings Education Association as the exclusive bargaining agent for 2021-22.

Approved the senior high band travel request. The band will travel to Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio, in summer 2020.

Casey’s to utilize Hardee’s space

Casey’s General Store looks to construct a new building on 16th Street including using space where a Hardee’s restaurant once was planned.

Members of the Hastings Planning Commission voted 7-0 during their meeting Monday to separately recommend Hastings City Council approval of several actions pertaining to the existing Casey’s and Hardee’s properties. Those votes included approval of a zoning change from heavy industrial to commercial business for the location where Casey’s is now, at the corner of 16th Street and Burlington Avenue; vacation of the alley between 16th and 17th streets between the lot where Casey’s is currently located and the Hardee’s Subdivision to the east; and the final plat of the Casey’s Subdivision.

Commissioners Dave Johnson, Rakesh Srivastava and Eric Arneson were absent. Alternate Willis Hunt was present.

The Planning Commission’s recommendations for the properties will be forwarded to the City Council for action during the council’s Nov. 12 meeting.

A Hardee’s restaurant had been planned on the property adjacent to the existing Casey’s, where the OK Café stood previously. The lot was cleared, but the Hardee’s developer subsequently abandoned plans for a Hastings restaurant.

Also during the meeting, commissioners unanimously recommended approval to the zoning map, the text of Chapter 34 pertaining to zoning to address conversions of zone districts for properties entering city jurisdiction from Adams County jurisdiction.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of a resolution for the plan modification for 16 townhouse units to comprise Pioneer Trail Flats Second Subdivision in North Park Commons.

The Commission also recommended approval of Trail Ridge Addition Phase 1 for 41-single family homes in North Park Commons and approval of the final plan for Lakeview Ninth Subdivision on Merle Avenue.

Jury selection begins in murder case

The jury selection process begins Tuesday morning in Adams County District Court for a murder case against a 22-year-old Hastings man.

Daniel B. Harden faces charges of first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Harden is one of two men accused of trying to rob 19-year-old Jose “Joey” Hansen and killing him in the process in 2017.

After the jury is selected, testimony is expected to begin Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to take two weeks, with an expected conclusion on Nov. 1.

Authorities say an attempted robbery led to Hansen’s death on Sept. 11, 2017, in the 700 block of West G Street. Hansen was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back. The conspiracy charge stems from an alleged plan between Harden and co-defendant Deante Mullen to arrange a drug deal with the intent to commit robbery.

Mullen, 21, of Lincoln and Katherine Creigh, 23, of Lincoln also have been charged in the case.

Mullen faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony. He pleaded not guilty March 5, 2018. A pre-trial hearing in his case has been set for Nov. 12 at 11 a.m.

Creigh, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time, also was charged with accessory to a felony for allegedly helping Harden and Mullen avoid arrest after the shooting. A preliminary hearing in Creigh’s case has been scheduled for Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.

First-degree murder is a Class 1 or Class 1A felony punishable by death or life in prison, respectively. Use of a firearm to commit a felony is a Class 1C felony punishable by five to 50 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 50 years in prison. Accessory to first-degree murder is a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Volunteers prep for Special Needs Fall Festival

Final preparations are in the works for the fifth annual Special Needs Fall Festival on Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Evangelical Free Church, 2015 N. St. Joseph Ave.

The festival will feature fingernail painting, face painting, (temporary) hairspray coloring, cake walks, and horse and wagon rides. Attendees can play in bounce houses, go bobbing for treats, go bowling or play miniature golf. There will be jewelry making, pumpkin painting, balloon figures, sensory activities and more. Patrons will be able to borrow costumes, dress up and get pictures. Food and treats will be available, as well.

RuAnn Root, a parent of a child with disabilities and member of the organizing committee, said the event serves as an outreach for people with disabilities and their families. The event was designed to give people with special needs a place to have a safe holiday activity. Activities have been adapted to fit people with limited mobility or accommodate other disabilities.

New this year, organizers added storytelling, karaoke, dancing, a petting zoo and a display of vehicles used by the military, fire department and law enforcement.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve it and still meet the needs of the people who are going to come in and enjoy the day,” she said.

Last year, an estimated 600 people participated in the event. As word of the festival spreads, Root said, some past attendees have been traveling from other communities like York, Seward and Fullerton. Organizers are planning for 600-700 people this year.

Root said the five years of the event have shown how much the community of Hastings stands behind those with disabilities.

“People embraced this concept and were absolutely excited about hosting an event like this,” she said. “We’re excited to provide entertainment, as well as networking and support system for people so they can see they are not alone.”

Various organizations and individuals came together to organize the event including the Hastings Community Foundation, Goodwill Industries and The ARC of Adams-Clay County.

Root said organizers still are looking for volunteers to help operate the event, which needs about 60-80 volunteers every hour.

“It takes a lot of work and volunteers to put this together,” she said.

Anyone willing to volunteer for the event or seeking more information can contact the Evangelical Free Church at 402-463-1441 or evangelicalfree@hastingsefc.org.