LIANE HANSEN, host:
The search continues this morning for people trapped in their basements in Greensburg, Kansas. Nine people are confirmed dead from devastating storms that raked the area Friday night. Many expect the casualty list to grow as rescuers ply through the wreckage of Greensburg. Many residents say it's likely the town itself will be among the victims.
Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.
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FRANK MORRIS: In a shelter 10 miles outside Greensburg, elderly people huddle on cots, budged next to an old lady who's clutching a weather radio; more severe weathers in the forecast. Emotions are raw in this high school gym. Nearly every one has a glazed look in their eyes.
Randy Rinker(ph) weathered the storm in his sister's basement. When he kicked his way out, the Greensburg he's known for decades had all but vanished.
Mr. RANDY RINKER (Tornado Victim): With the lights or anything, it was really hard to, you know, really understand the magnitude of it until daylight today in total devastation. Our town is, for the most part, gone.
MORRIS: To visualize the destruction, imagine pictures of European cities devastated in World War II. All but a few of the buildings in this town lie in pieces, splintered and squashed. Shreds of clothing cling to trees that have had their bark blasted off. The people here in Greensburg had lots of warning -first from weather forecasts then from screaming sirens. And they used the time to gather in the best basements.
Richard Engelken(ph), for instance, hustled a dozen people - including elderly neighbors and grandkids - down into his basement. After the storm obliterated his house, he picked his way out over someone's freezer, which the tornado had shoved down his basement staircase, and went to work.
Mr. RICHARD ENGELKEN (Tornado Victim): We went door-to-door and checked on all the people that were there. And a lot of people were trapped in their basements, had flashlights in the windows. And we went back later once some of the fire departments start coming down from other towns and start going back and getting them all out, pull them through the windows or digging the rubble out, and trying to get them all out. So it was quite an ordeal.
MORRIS: The search for victims trapped in basements continues today, so does the reckoning.
I'm standing under an - what used to be an awning for a gas station. Some of the pumps are still here; they're all knocked over and destroyed. There were wrapped pieces of carpet and insulation, and tiny, splintered board all beside them. Some truck landed right in the middle of this thing. Most of the metal for this awning apparently blew away and landed a mile from here in a farmer's field. It's a scene of utter, complete, chilling devastation.
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MORRIS: Still, the work goes on. In this tire shop on the outskirts of town, Josh Scheck(ph) is working round the clock, fixing tires of police and rescue vehicles that had been stabbed with screws, bolts and other rubble.
Mr. JOSH SCHECK: So we'll be here fixing them until they'll all be good and they can come back.
MORRIS: Greensburg city administrator, Steve Hewitt, puts a brave face on the disaster.
Mr. STEVE HEWITT (City Administrator, Greensburg): And we're going to find a way to rebuild now. And, you know, we've invested a lot of time and effort. A lot of people have invested a lot of their heritage here. And I think we're going to find a way to turn that around and bring this town back. I think we have an opportunity to bring it back better than it ever was. And I think we're going to have to.
MORRIS: In one breath, Hewitt says the same all-for-one spirit that saved so many lives in the tornado will revitalize the town. But in the next, he mentions that he lost his house, and admits that the whole thing is surreal, and that he doesn't really know what to expect, and that he's scared that the people of Greensburg will have to rebuild both their lives and their town almost from scratch.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.