Kansas Tornado Survivors to View Remains of Town

Residents of Greensburg, Kan., are due to return to the area Monday in hopes of retrieving some of their belongings. The town was obliterated Friday night by a powerful F-5 tornado. Eight people died.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

Residents who want to rebuild Greensburg, Kansas, will have to reconstruct main street. Friday's tornado destroyed every business and every church and almost every home, which drew the attention of President Bush when he spoke to reporters in Washington.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our hearts are heavy for the loss of life in Kansas.

ROBERTS: From member station KCUR, Frank Morris reports on the strongest tornado to hit the United States in eight years.

FRANK MORRIS: In the high school gym turned shelter in nearby Haviland, Kansas, weary people stand on the court gazing up at the bleachers where their governor, Kathleen Sebelius, and Congressman Jerry Moran stand promising them financial assistance. But when the hometown politician Dennis McKinney, the Kansas House minority leader, steps forward to make some perfunctory announcements, the event is transformed into a tearful homecoming.

State Representative DENNIS MCKINNEY (Democrat, Kansas State Assembly): (Unintelligible) disaster services reminds everybody to keep all of your receipts, because FEMA will reimburse on those receipts. I've seen most of you (unintelligible) tornado, it was sure good to see you.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of thunder and rain)

MORRIS: it's raining again in Greensburg, Kansas. That's bad because everyone's things are still out sitting in their open basements, strewn across yards; photos, old antique furniture, everything anybody ever had is lying in the wreckage here soaking up rain.

But a few Greensburg residents catch up with the governor under an awning. They let her know they're tired of waiting to retrieve what little it is they have left.

Governor KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Democrat, Kansas): We need it to make it safe for folks to get back. I mean, there are down wires, there are all kinds of things, so they are trying to…

Unidentified Woman #1: (Unintelligible) understanding of that…

Gov. SEBELIUS: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #1: …but we were there that night.

Gov. SEBELIUS: I understand.

Unidentified Woman #1: I mean, we walked (unintelligible).

Gov. SEBELIUS: And absolutely (unintelligible).

MORRIS: For the people of Greensburg it seems like a very long time since Friday night when they scrambled to basements, then picked their way out of the wreckage, checked on their neighbors and sought shelter.

They've endured more bad weathers since, and they've heard that four Army soldiers and one civilian were jailed after allegedly looting the shattered grocery store.

But in the Haviland grade school library, clothes, toys and toiletries overflow from boxes. Greensburg residents like Dave Williams have come here to get something nearly all of them would otherwise lack - a change of clothes - and to take a few tiny steps towards a new start.

What are you going to do? What do you think you're going to do?

Mr. DAVE WILLIAMS: Get my insurance money and leave this state. I'm moving from Kansas. I have lived here all of my life except for a few years. I lived two years in Arizona; they don't have tornados in Arizona, and that's why I'm going. I'm headed out. I'm done with this state.

MORRIS: But Dave Williams appears to be the exception. Many are pledged to rebuild and others are still in shock. Chandra Morris(ph) had worked for years remodeling her Greensburg house. The tornado blew it away.

Ms. CHANDRA MORRIS: I had a goal, you know, and now it's gone so I don't know. It makes you just wonder what - I don't know. Got to rearrange my life, have another goal besides where I want to be, you know. Because that was home, and now home is gone.

MORRIS: Morris had lived catty-corner from what's purported to be the world's largest hand-dug well, a quirky old tourist attraction, one of the features that gave Greensburg a greater sense of civic pride in many South Central Kansas towns. Hanging out with his former neighbors at the school, Farrell Allison(ph) proclaims that Greensburg will be back. He knows that the streets and sewers remain intact, and not even the most violent, horrific tornado can wipe out the sense of community here or its signature landmark.

Mr. FARRELL ALLISON: The big well is still there, I hope. I mean, it's a hole in the ground, it ought to be still there, shouldn't it?

Unidentified Man: It is definitely still there. I saw it. I looked down in it.

Unidentified Woman #2: They just have to clean it up.

Mr. ALLISON: So we have our tourist attraction always.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, we just don't have our water tower.

MORRIS: For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris reporting.

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