Kansas Governor Outlines Tornado Cleanup Efforts Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained equipment from her state's National Guard, which she expects will hamper recovery from the devastating tornado that struck the town of Greensburg on Friday.
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Kansas Governor Outlines Tornado Cleanup Efforts

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Kansas Governor Outlines Tornado Cleanup Efforts

Kansas Governor Outlines Tornado Cleanup Efforts

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Residents of Greensburg, Kansas return to what was left of their homes today after a tornado destroyed nearly every building in the town last Friday. It's estimated that the winds from the tornado reached more than 200 miles per hour. Also today, it was announced that a survivor was found amid the rubble in Greensburg and two more bodies were discovered. That brings the death toll there to 10. Rescue crews are still searching for the missing. Greensburg has a population of only about 1500 people.

SIEGEL: Joining us from Greensburg, Kansas is Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Welcome to the program, Governor.

Governor KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Democrat, Kansas): Thank you.

SIEGEL: First of all, what does it look like to you?

Gov. SEBELIUS: Well, it looks like a bomb went off. I guess it's the closest I could describe it. Where there used to be homes and businesses and schools, there are really shelves, at best. A lot of places there are just piles of rubble and cement slab. Every direction, you can see the trees have been sheared off and - or overturned. And there really is nothing left. There are no street signs, there are no posts.

In fact, volunteers have painted names on these empty streets so people have some way to get their bearings and what used to be Main Street or Pine Street or - because without a house, without a marker, without way to tell where you are, it's very disorienting. Even to people who have lived here all their lives.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you first about the impact of deployments of the national guard on the rescue situation there. I gather that your short - both of personnel and also of equipment - because of the guard being at war.

Gov. SEBELIUS: Well, our personnel situation is actually better than it has been in the past. We have about 900 of our guardsmen and women deployed. We have a full-force unit of about 8,000. So we're just a little over 10 percent who are overseas and that's better than it has been. What's really, I think, an issue that creates a real handicap to respond in a timely fashion is the missing equipment. And it's not only missing in Kansas, it's missing in states across the country.

So dump trucks and front loaders and large backhoes. Equipment to move people safely in the secure areas, to move debris, to bring in heavy equipment are just not here. We have less than 50 percent of our heavy equipment assigned at the guard units that actually is here in Kansas. And unfortunately, there is very little to borrow from surrounding states because their equipment is gone also. Ironically, it's an issue that governors have been talking about for a couple of years. As our guard units get deployed. The equipment goes with them.

And we've been saying it's a real safety and security issue for communities across America. And unfortunately we're leaving that right now in Kansas. We'll get the job done eventually. The citizens of Greensburg, unfortunately, will be the victims in the short run because it will be more difficult operation done in a less timely fashion,

SIEGEL: Just a couple of very quick questions before I let you go. First, how is FEMA doing? What grades do you give FEMA for its responsive...

Gov. SEBELIUS: Actually I'd say you, you know, B plus to A at this point. The regional director Dikenji(ph) who has been a friend of Kansas has been on the ground since the storm hit. We heard immediately from the president Saturday afternoon about expediting a declaration by midnight on Saturday - just a little over 24 hours after the storm hit. We had a presidential declaration. So I think they are very much focused on the situation here in Central Kansas and that's goof news.

SIEGEL: And lastly - in terms of warnings - did everything go as best they could have done or was there any - was there any error that might have contributed to any injury or unnecessary loss of property.

Gov. SEBELIUS: Actually the warnings were remarkable. The storm sputters were accurate. People had about 20 minutes of advanced warning with very specific warnings that the storm was going to have a direct hit on Greensburg. I have no doubt that that saved, literally, hundreds and hundreds of lives as people sought shelter.

What I think is pretty clear is as we rebuild and as people choose to rebuild, there shouldn't be a structure in a community like this without a basement. People had to scramble, who didn't have basements. I think that some of the victims - who would have been found - were clearly trapped in their houses not in areas below ground. And that may be an essential feature of moving forward.

SIEGEL: Well, Governor Sebelius, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Gov. SEBELIUS: Good to talk to you. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

SIEGEL: We will. That's Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas speaking to us from Greensburg, Kansas.

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