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Tornado Claims Two

03/24/2008

At approximately 9:10 a.m. the Pratt County Sheriff's Office was notified of an accident 12.5 miles east of Pratt at the roadside rest area. On arrival Pratt County Sheriff's officers and Pratt County Emergency Medical crews found a 2006 Saturn Ion passenger car approximately 150 yards north of U-54 Highway lying in a wheatfield.

Two individuals were pronounced dead at the scene by Pratt County Coroners Dr. Cannatta and Fowler. Gary S. Whitlow, 33, of Rocky Ford, Colorado and Kimberly S. Whitlow, 29, also of Rocky Ford, Colorado, were pronounced dead at the scene by Pratt County Coroners Dr. Cannatta and Dr. Fowler.

Further investigation at the scene revealed that this vehicle was in the area last night when a powerful tornado came through blowing a semi off the highway, breaking off power poles and laying power lines across the road and obviously blew the Whitlow vehicle into the wheat field completely destroying the vehicle making it barely visible from the road.

Early in the investigation it was feared there might be children that had been in the vechicle also and a search was initiated for more victims. An aerial search was started with an airplane from Pratt Air and finished by a search from a Kansas Highway Patrol aircraft, as well as dozens of volunteers and emergency responders on foot.

Approximately 1 1/2 hours into the search it was confirmed there were only two people involved in this incident and the search was called off. The path of the tornado was flown also just to make sure there were no victims in the rest of the path of this storm.

The Pratt County Sheriff's Office, Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Wildlife and Parks, Kansas Department of Transportation, Pratt County Emergency medical services, Pratt City Fire Department, Township 12 Fire Department, Red Cross, Walmart of Pratt, and numerous volunteers assisted in this effort.

This same storm damaged or destroyed approximately 5-6 rural residences and one irrigation system. The irrigation system was blown across 54 highway in the same area as the fatalities.