Airplanes were knocked over at the downtown Kansas City airport and roofs were torn off homes, businesses, the University of Kansas and the Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park.
Sunday's twisters came on the heels of another powerful storm that ripped through southern Missouri and southern Illinois Saturday night, destroying homes along a path of more than 20 miles.
The National Weather Service had not confirmed whether the thunderstorm was a tornado, but several weather spotters did report tornadoes to area television stations.
Sunday's storm also whipped up hail – some the size of baseballs - in several northwest Missouri counties including Clay, Ray, Cass, Bates and Linn counties.
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's office said emergency management officials declared Douglas County a local disaster after the storm hit Lawrence and the surrounding area about 8 a.m. Sunday.
The University of Kansas campus was littered with trees, roof tiles and window glass after several buildings, including Anschutz Library and the Chancellor's residence were damaged, said Joy Moser, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department.
The roof of the non-denominational Danforth Chapel, which has been the scene of thousands of weddings on campus, was nearly completely torn off.
The storm also left damage across Lawrence, with awnings and roofs destroyed all along Massachusetts Street, the main street through downtown. A building that houses a T-shirt company east of downtown Lawrence collapsed and spires were blown off the top of Plymouth Congregational Church, one of the oldest churches in the city.
James Patterson, 23, was asleep in his upstairs apartment when a sudden drop in pressure woke him about 8 a.m.
"It felt like I was in the tornado, if that's what it was," he said.