Four hotel guests were injured and numerous vehicles were damaged when a tornado hit the outskirts of this northwest Kansas town Monday night, emergency officials said.
Sirens didn't sound until the tornado was almost on top of the Comfort Inn, which sustained extensive damage to its pool and breakfast rooms, front desk employee Margaret Ellis said.
"There was no warning," Ellis said. "It just dropped."
A woman and her young daughter who were playing at the hotel's enclosed pool suffered cuts from flying glass, and a third guest was struck in the back by flying debris while walking back from a gas station across the street, Ellis said. She said all three were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Jane Welch, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Office, said Thomas County officials reported four hotel guests injured in all, including one from another hotel. She also said a car dealership and a truck stop also sustained damage.
The tornado touched down around 6:45 p.m. and stayed on the ground at least 15 minutes, said Larry Boyd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in nearby Goodland.
Powerful storms slammed other parts of northwest and north-central Kansas as well Monday afternoon and evening.
In Ellsworth County, wind gusts estimated at 60 mph and higher blew a pickup truck and trailer off Interstate 70 and moved a mobile home four feet.
At the Comfort Inn near Colby, Ellis said she was returning to the front desk after delivering a rollaway bed when the tornado hit.
"Everything went dark and the mom was screaming that she needed help," Ellis said.
The Weather Service office in Goodland had issued a severe thunderstorm watch around 2 p.m. and put out a thunderstorm warning minutes before it began receiving reports about the twister from a ham operator club in Colby that chases storms.
"It beat the warning we sent out," Boyd said. "It was quick."
He said the storm formed three miles west of Colby, causing some crop damage before it crossed U.S. 24 and moved through an area south of town where hotels and gas stations are located.
Several members of the ham radio club followed the storm, reporting what was happening to the meteorologists.
"They did a good job," Boyd said. "They really helped us out."
A team has been sent to the area to examine the damage and has rated it as an F-1, the lowest on the five-level Fujiti scale.
"They were describing the tornado like it was a long rope shape," Boyd said.