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Will Greensburg Tornado Leave a Ghost Town?
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Will Greensburg Tornado Leave a Ghost Town?


NPR's Jeff Brady spent much of the last week in Greensburg, Kansas, for a tornado nearly leveled that town. The storm also killed 11 people and here's a look inside Jeff's Reporter's Notebook.

JEFF BRADY: There's no need to enforce the 35-mile-an-hour speed limit to Greensburg anymore. With block after block of obliterated buildings to look at, everyone is driving much slower than that.

(Soundbite of engine running)

BRADY: Every couple of hundred feet, there's a front-end loader rounding up splintered wood that will be burned a few miles outside town. This small loader looks like it can fit half a pickup truck load in its bucket. Still it barely makes a dent in the mess that exists on just this one city lot.

I was struck by the trees. The tornado left just the trunks and a few of the thickest branches. They look like skeletons, stripped bare. Not just a few of the trees, but as best I could tell, every single tree in town. Beyond what you can see, there's another level to the disaster, leaving entire extended families in shock.

Greensburg is one of those rural American towns where if the kids move away, they often don't go far.

Ms. APRIL BARR(ph) (Resident, Greensburg): I was born here at Greensburg in 1980, lived here until 1999. When I went to college, my parents was here. My brother and his family lives here. My grandma on my dad's side lives here. My mom's parents…

BRADY: April Barr was born in Greensburg. While most of us would call on family for support, in this case, the whole family is homeless.

Ms. BARR: My family all wants to rebuild. They want to be right here where our roots are.

BRADY: Just about everyone here says that now. But when pressed, older residents say they don't want to spend the last years of their lives starting over. Young families say they can't afford to rebuild.

Ms. BARR: Nobody has jobs. Every business is gone. There's no schools, you know, no houses. You're lucky if you have one part of your house saved. So it's going to be hard. But it's hard to imagine they're not being home.

BRADY: City leaders, perhaps, anticipating this, looked for something positive to report. They see opportunity in their rebuilding. Maybe it will strengthen the economy. Maybe there are folks who want to live in a brand new small town. But the worry is maybe Greensburg has just become another Western ghost town.

Greensburg's claim to fame is still intact, though. Apparently not even a powerful tornado could destroy the world's largest hand-dug well.

SIMON: NPR's Jeff Brady.

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