I have spent the last couple of days working in Greensburg, Kansas for Landline Now on XM Satellite Radio. They hired me to produce some radio reports for them about the tornado and its effect on truckers and their business. I was fortunate I could take a couple of days vacation in order to do this freelance work. One piece ran today and there are more to come. I snapped some photos and will share more here in the coming days.
Frankly, the devastation of the town cannot truly be captured in words, pictures or video. It is mind boggling. The intersection of Main Street and Highway 54 has a huge pile of rubble, more than a story high, with a piece of farm equipment perched on top of it upside down.
Official estimates are that 95% of the town is gone. I don’t know where the other 5% is that’s supposedly OK. We were all over town, and I saw nothing that was undamaged. There are structures that are upright, but I saw nothing that wasn’t damaged in some way.
A couple of blocks from that intersection, across from the grain bin, which is standing although it has damage, was a sight that became commonplace – a light pole snapped off. This pole was not much taller than I am and showed the distinctive look all of the ones I saw had – the splintered top, splayed outward.
Utility crews were working at a frantic pace and I’m amazed at all they’ve accomplished. The mayor said yesterday that Greensburg is going to have a whole new town and it’s not hard to believe when you see all the new poles and cable going in, as well as other signs of hope. The bank was open yesterday – under a tent in front of the damaged building. Everywhere people are sifting through their belongings, looking for anything worthwhile or precious. Some businesses are starting to show signs of life as well, even without roofs.
The resilience of people is astonishing. People’s homes have been turned inside out – literally – and they’re going through their lives in plain view of everyone – and yet you hear laughter. Yes, laughter. People are laughing with their neighbors. They’re hugging. They’re gathering on street corners to share their survival stories. And they’re celebrating. Yes, celebrating. They’re alive. Their children are alive. Their neighbors are alive. Of course, lives were lost, and you also hear people acknowledging that.
Throughout town are flags – draped over rubble and flying high. They’re bright punches of color in a landscape that has been stripped of much of its color. Grass is covered with rubble, flowers have disappeared, and trees have been denuded of bark and leaves.
Trees all over town are sheared off at the top. The bark has been pulled from them and deposited somewhere. Everyone is struck by different things in a disaster, but one of the most disturbing things I saw were places where a house was gone – literally – just taken away with very little left behind other than the foundation. Those folks can’t even go through what’s left of their homes – the entire home has disappeared.
On one corner, there’s a tree that has been stripped of its bark on one side but not the other. The house on the corner is completely missing – a few boards and a foundation, but nothing else. It’s the only one in sight where this is the case although all the others are damaged.
It’s so poignant it’s heartbreaking, because for the residents of Greensburg this is now just daily life – at least for now – the sorting through of their lives. And they are rising to the occasion, as are the National Guard, firefighters, EMS workers, and volunteers of every imaginable kind.
There are signs of optimism everywhere – and humor. Signs proclaim properties are “For Sale” or “Newly Remodeled, Skylights Installed.” Teddy bears are perched on what’s left of stairs and Santa is overlooking Main Street from his second story vantage point.
Across the street from Santa is what’s left of Hunter Drug, which featured a beautiful old soda fountain. The spigots are still visible in the rubble. I had an email the other day from someone who told me their grandfather started Hunter Drug. I have asked them to share some stories of him and the early years of Hunter Drug here on the blog. I hope they will do so.
Mother Nature’s power is not to be minimized. We humans can build our worlds very carefully and she can destroy them in a few minutes. One of the gentlemen I spoke with said it lasted 20 minutes and then it was over. It took years to build and minutes to destroy a town. The Greensburg Tornado left its mark.
I cannot truly capture what it was like to walk around there – it felt like Holy Ground. What you’re seeing seems impossible to believe. The brain does not want to process it. It doesn’t fit anything you know about how a town is supposed to look.
It was an honor to be among these people working to reclaim their lives. I’m thankful for those who allowed me to share their stories, I am humbled by them.
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