updated 4/22/2005 11:24:40 AM ET 2005-04-22T15:24:40

A band of storms producing widespread hail and scattered tornadoes swept through several counties in southeast Kansas on Thursday, with some twisters causing property damage but no injuries.

In Neosho County, 911 director Byron Shultz said he had reports of five rural houses destroyed or severely damaged, but no injuries.

"We were very fortunate," Shultz said, noting that tornadoes touch down only in rural areas, one between Galena and Parsons and another between Parsons and St. Paul.

Shultz said he saw one of the tornadoes develop, hit the ground, then ascend. He saw the tornado form and dip down from a low-hanging cloud near the Labette County line.

"It was pretty excited," he said. "Every spring I go out looking for these things, and this was the first one I've seen."

Shultz said he came within a half mile of the tornado and tracked it for several miles.

"I'm really thankful nobody got hurt," Shultz said.

Shelters used
Hundreds of spotters were dispatched to watch for the storms in southeast Kansas, and some people sought refuge in storm shelters while waiting for the storms to pass.

"I understand quite a few people went to shelters around here," said Eldon Bedene, emergency management director for Crawford County. "I got reports of 500 or 600 people going to shelters around Pittsburg."

Bedene, whose new truck was badly damaged by hail, estimated that 75 to 80 storm spotters were out in his county.

"We had most of the county pretty well covered to spot for storms and get the word to small communities," he said. "I saw a funnel cloud in the air, and it was a big one."

The National Weather Service in Wichita said there were reports of some small "rope" tornadoes and a few larger ones in southeast Kansas. Meteorologist Bruce Wightman in Wichita said such storm systems usually start coming through earlier in the year.

"We have been very lucky," he said. "We have had very large area of high pressure that has kept most of high plains shielded from severe weather. But now we're into more favorable conditions for severe weather."

Airport evacuated
In Missouri, officials at Kansas City International Airport evacuated the terminal for a brief time because of tornado warnings in the area.

Tornado sirens sounded across the northern part of the metro Kansas City area late Thursday afternoon, and airport spokesman Joe McBride said the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the airport control tower closed around 5:10 p.m.

Because of the warnings, airport officials ushered some 2,000 people from the terminals and into tunnels leading to the parking garages, McBride said. The evacuation lasted about 40 minutes.

The weather service office in Springfield, Mo., said a line of severe storms formed in Labette and Neosho counties in Kansas, and swept east across Cherokee, Crawford and Bourbon counties before crossing into Missouri north of Joplin.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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