Stan Navarrette found a house for his family in Greensburg, Kansas shortly before Easter but now he is looking for a new home again after a tornado ripped through the town Friday night.
With both he and his wife, Diane, working in town, the couple was only too happy to say goodbye to the daily 55-mile round-trip commute from Kinsley when they finished making the move a week ago Sunday.
Five days later, thanks to the monster twister that devastated the Kiowa County seat, Navarrette is again without a home.
Having worked as the circulation manager at Greensburg’s weekly newspaper since last June, Navarrette was relieved at now being able to walk three blocks to grab a quick lunch over the noon hour. Diane, on the other hand, was equally glad to “finally be living in the same town where she was working.”
Mrs. Navarrette works as a therapist at the regional mental health center in Greensburg, the Iroquois Center for Human Development.
For the time being the two are living with Stan Navarrette’s mother-in-law in Dodge City with his two sons and two stepdaughters. The six of them were at home at 321 Illinois with seven-year-old Maddie Cannon from across the street, when they first heard the sirens last Friday.
After viewing a weather update on television, the family decided to take their grilled pork chop meal to the basement “just to be on the safe side.”
Not long after, one of Diane Navarrette’s co-workers called from the south side of Greensburg, explaining she was with a storm spotter.
“She told my wife they could see the tornado and that it was heading straight for us,” Stan Navarrette recalls.
Diane in turn quickly called Maddie’s dad, Shawn, asking if he wanted his daughter to stay with them. Shawn answered Maddie and said she should stay put since he was already hunkered down in his basement.
The girls were quickly wrapped in blankets while Stan and Diane Navarrette wrapped mattresses around themselves and the boys, the sound of popping glass filling their ears as they did so. A minute later it was all over, Stan Navarrette stepped outside to what he termed “a really eerie scene.”
He remembers sensing the magnitude of what had just hit his corner of town when he noticed the garage missing and his van moved considerably from where he’d parked it.
After surveying the demolition of his neighborhood several more minutes, he said he began smelling gas from ruptured lines, prompting him to get his family to safety.
“I was just in a daze for several minutes, seeing how so many houses around me were just gone,” he said. “But when I smelled that gas it snapped me out of it, and I knew it was time to get out of there.”
Luckily able to reach his mother-in-law by cell phone, the Navarrette’s were in Dodge by 2 a.m. How long they remain there remains uncertain at this point.
“There’s no place to move back to in Greensburg,” Stan Navarrette said. “Where my wife works is torn up pretty bad from what I’ve heard and the Signal office is missing most of its roof, so what we do next will depend a lot on our job situation. Right now, I just don’t know what that is.”
With plans for the four kids to remain in Kinsley schools the remainder of the term, the Navarette’s won’t have to worry about such arrangements for at least a couple of months. But with both the elementary and high schools demolished in Greensburg, educational plans after that are cloudy.
Stan Navarrette pointed out that his family has endured a trifecta of sorts for the past week. In addition to having just completed a move to Greensburg and then losing that home five days later to the storm, he rushed from work last Monday to the side of his 16-year-old son, Gabe, who’d just rolled and totaled one of the family’s two vehicles.
“It’s been a tough week,” Stan Navarrette said. “I could do without another one like this for quite a while.”
Asked if the timing of his recent move had crossed his mind since Friday night, the New Mexico native nodded.
“My wife and I got a little ambitious,” he said. “We didn’t have to be out of the house in Kinsley until May 10, so we could’ve waited a little longer and we wouldn’t have gone through this.
“I guess maybe it’s not always a bad thing to procrastinate. But who could’ve known this would’ve happened? How often is a town this size going to be completely wiped out by a tornado? It’s just unreal.”