PARSONS, Kan. -- Gripping a deflated doll between her fingers, Gerry Brown sat on the ground and watched her grandchildren pick through a pile of rubble and broken toys at the tornado-thrashed grounds of a carnival.
The 71-year-old estimated Wednesday's storm, which destroyed her game booth and trailer, cost her close to $40,000 in damage. But she couldn't help but smile.
''Sitting here watching my grandchildren clean up this mess, I can't help but think how lucky I am to be alive,'' she said Thursday.
Toby Nemmers, owner of Toby's Carnival, said he had never seen anything like it in his 50 years in the business.
One minute, patrons were being whipped around by his amusement rides. The next, his rides were being whipped around by the tornado that leveled his carnival along with several homes and businesses in this small, southeast Kansas town.
''It was completely unbelievable,'' said Nemmers, who estimated his damage at $2 million. ''This place looks like it was hit by a bomb.''
Nemmers said he cleared customers off the rides just moments before the storm hit. Some people sought refuge across the street at the police station, where part of the roof was torn off.
''We were all huddled in the men's room with our heads down and we heard the roof peel back,'' Brown said. ''We kept waiting for it to fall in on us, but it never did.''
The tornado blew into the town of 13,000 shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday. Red Cross workers estimated about a dozen businesses and several dozen homes were damaged beyond repair.
The downtown area was blocked off by the National Guard on Thursday as workers cleared streets littered with sheet metal, roofing, tree limbs and glass.
Twenty-seven people were treated at a hospital for mostly minor injuries.
Gov. Bill Graves declared a state of emergency for Labette, Neosho, Montgomery and Crawford counties Thursday. Tornados also caused damage in the cities of Walnut, Erie and Cherryvale.
Kathy Knight stood with the aid of crutches in front of what was left of her house, one of about five on her street in Parsons that had the roof blown off.
''I was running in the house when it hit and the wind sucked me right back out on the porch and spun me around like a top,'' said Knight, who suffered a sprained knee. ''It was the scariest thing I've ever experienced.''
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