WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A bright and sunny day in Kansas can turn stormy quickly. One Kansas family that takes severe storms seriously survived the Greensburg tornado on May 4, 2007. The lessons they learned that night are lessons they share with their students in Haysville.
The Greensburg tornado was on the ground for a little over an hour. The EF-5 tornado produced winds of 205 miles an hour and destroyed just about everything in its path.
Connie Schaef and two of her children only had minutes to get to safety.
“It has turned, and it is heading right for you!”
Those were the last words Connie Schaef’s friend said to her before the tornado hit.
“I remember saying something to my mom, ‘It must have passed,'” Jarrett Schaef said. “She said, ‘No, I think the sirens just got taken out.'”
The tornado was 1.7 miles wide and invisible because it was wrapped in rain. It tracked north.
“It sounded like a huge vacuum cleaner,” Connie said.
Jarrett described what it was like when the tornado got to their house.
“The pressure change, I feel like an increase in elevation, a lot of pressure on my ears, and it sounds like somebody is walking around upstairs,” he said.
The tornado destroyed 95% of the town, including the Schaef’s home.
“The wall behind us was a cabinet that actually collapsed over the top of us,” Connie said. “The washer and dryer were there and caught the wall. We were underneath that wall.”
“My mom found a way out,” Jarrett said. “We climbed over the washer and dryer and climbed out, way out into the opposite corner of the house into the backyard.”
The tornado killed 11 people in the town and injured 63.
“One of the ladies who passed away, we were there trying to help with her family and help get her out,” Connie said.
The Schaef family lived in Greensburg for 30 years. They stayed after the tornado to help the town recover and rebuild.
“In terms of possessions, that’s one of the biggest lessons you can learn in this situation,” Jarrett said. “Still to this day, I don’t hold onto things very tightly. At least, people yes, but not the things.”
Teaching opportunities brought both Connie and Jarrett to Campus High School in Haysville so the family could be closer together.
They will never forget that night and how it influences their relationships within their family and the students they teach.
“Protectiveness,” Jarrett said. “I don’t want my kids to go through that.”
“In terms of students, here, it reminds me how important history is,” he said.
“Valuing everybody,” Connie said. “Valuing the kids and understanding where they are at. That is my number one thing.”
The Schaefs have nothing but respect for the Greensburg community they called home for decades.
Even though they have moved away, they wish the best for the town – that it will continue to thrive and that the people who move there love it.