Kansas Resident Relates Post-Tornado Scene A tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kan., over the weekend, destroying the town and killing at least eight people. A resident talks about seeing his home for the first time since the twister struck.
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Kansas Resident Relates Post-Tornado Scene

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Kansas Resident Relates Post-Tornado Scene

Kansas Resident Relates Post-Tornado Scene

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeline Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen, sitting in for Alex Chadwick, who is away this week.

Coming up on the program, when it comes to getting information, does torture actually work? We'll have a report from NPR's Mike Pesca.

BRAND: First, we go to Greensburg, Kansas. The town was flattened by a tornado over the weekend. The downtown business district no longer exists; schools gone, churches disappeared.

COHEN: At least eight people in Greensburg were killed. There are some 1,500 residents who live in the town. Today officials are allowing some of them to return to their homes to see what remains.

BRAND: Mike Swigart, where are you right now?

Mr. MIKE SWIGART: I'm standing in front of my home in Greensburg, Kansas.

BRAND: And what does it look like?

Mr. SWIGART: It's totally destroyed.

BRAND: Did you know what you would see when you went there today?

Mr. SWIGART: Well, we saw it in the dark. We left here about 4:30 Saturday morning and it was dark. But we knew it was a total loss. We've seen pictures on TV, in the papers, since we left here. But it's our first chance back in. And like I told my wife, did some looking before we even got in the car. It's even worst than we expected, and we knew it was total loss.

BRAND: So describe how you're feeling right now, looking at your house.

Mr. SWIGART: Well, honestly, it's a piece of property. And we can rebuild the house, given time. My main focus is that my family is okay. We survived the tornado in the basement. And we were luckier than some people. Everything around us is destroyed. There's a brick house 30 feet north to me that's no longer there. There's a hole in the ground where it used to be.

BRAND: You were in the basement when this happened?


BRAND: Can you describe what that was like?

Mr. SWIGART: You know, ma'am, we were expecting 60 to 70-mile-an-hour winds, because according to TV, the tornado was supposed to pass between us and the next town over, about 11 miles over, between us. And it took a direct turn north. And instead of getting 60 to 70-mile-an-hour winds, we took - a gentleman here from the military just told me we had over 300-mile-an-hour winds.

BRAND: Three-hundred-mile-an-hour winds?

Mr. SWIGART: And I'm - just to tell you what I'm looking at right now, there is a semi truck trailer in my front yard.

BRAND: So you're in the basement and you don't really know what's happening above ground?

Mr. SWIGART: From what we've seen on TV before, tornadoes go through pretty quick and they're gone in a few seconds. This one lasted several minutes. And then it was too still. It was a very strange stillness and so we stayed where we were at. And then the second half came through. I assume we were in the center of the storm, because you always hear about the eye of the storm. We didn't know. But when the second half came through, it was so much more intense, because there was less structure around us, and we could hear the winds coming through.

And we were in a little five-by-five room in our basement - the bathroom. There's a hole in the backside of my house, which is how we got out because there was no - you can't get in and out the front or back door. I tried to get out. Actually, the main level is still standing, but it's gutted. I mean, the top floor is gone. All of our bedrooms upstairs are gone, and the whole house is destroyed. It sucked wallpaper off the walls, sheetrock and plaster off the ceilings and everything. It is gutted.

BRAND: And it's you, your wife and how many children?

Mr. SWIGART: There are - I actually have three children. My daughter was in Dodge City with her cousin that night. And I was home with my 13 and 10-year-old sons. And we had four dogs, two cats and two rabbits - you know, everybody has pets and we lost a few of them. But basically, what we're going to do is look for anything that's possibly salvageable, just personal memorabilia, family photo albums.

Which actually, my wife just walked right up and found her wedding album, and it's saturated in mud. But we can take it to an album photo studio and have them try to save some of it. That's what we're looking for, just little things like that right now and everything else we can replace. You know. Any family pictures I have lost - I've had some (unintelligible) pictures of family members way back. I still have family memories of many of those people as far back I can remember, so I don't have to worry about those things. The family is okay. And my wife just found our kitten we haven't seen since the tornado hit, I mean we didn't see before the storm even.

BRAND: Your kitten?

Mr. SWIGART: Yeah. We thought she was gone.

BRAND: Oh, and she's there? She's...

Mr. SWIGART: She's here. She came home.


Mr. SWIGART: She was upstairs, I think, on our bed on the top floor. And yet the whole top floor is gone. Come here. Come here. Oh, she's still scared. She is scared to death. We're taking her home. Oh.

(Soundbite of a kitten meowing)

BRAND: Is that the cat meowing. I hear the kitten.

Mr. SWIGART: Yeah. Yes.


Mr. SWIGART: I mean, they're animals, but they're like part of the family, you know.

BRAND: Oh, that's good news. Tell me, where will you stay, you and your family and your animals? Where...

Mr. SWIGART: Well, we have family all over. And right now my mother-in-law in Dodge City is taking us in, and she has a pretty good-sized home. We don't want to impose on the family too long. We want to try to reestablish our lives as quickly as possible and let them have their normal lives, you know. I'm not going to be an inconvenience to them because they're so happy to be able to help us; I mean they're great, wonderful people and they're ready to help.

The whole family from everywhere has called all over and we'll do anything they can. We are insured. I mean, I know some of the people in town weren't insured, because this one of those things that I made sure that we had was insurance on everything. So I'm sure we'll come out, you know, and be able to at least start over again without major problems, you know.

BRAND: Will you go back to Greensburg to start over or will you go somewhere else?

Mr. SWIGART: You know, I - that is our plan. This is our home. We've been here 12-and-a-half years. And we like our home. It's a home with some history in the town. But there's a lot of people here we - nevertheless, 12-and-a-half years, you know, the whole town in a town this size. And we intend to be here. It really depends on what the city does. It might take a couple of years to clean it up, you know. I mean, I don't know how long it takes to clean it up, so it'll take a long time to rebuild it, you know.

BRAND: I understand that the downtown area was just flattened.

Mr. SWIGART: I'll tell you what. The whole town was flattened. There's only a small area that wasn't and that's on the very east edge of town out by the golf course on the east side. And there's some homes out there that weren't hit bad, just some high winds. But if you go from one side of the town to the next, there's a restaurant on the west end of town, in a motel. And from there, all the way to the east of the town, there's a motel on the east of the town that's not hit. And that motel right next to it is a restaurant that was flattened. And from that to the west - the whole town has been destroyed. It's 95 percent lost.

BRAND: Mike Swigart, thank you very much for speaking with us and sharing your story.

Mr. SWIGART: Sure. Thank you.

BRAND: And best of luck to you. Mike Swigart, speaking to me in front of his house, or what's left of it, in Greensburg, Kansas. Greensburg, Kansas was largely destroyed by a tornado that ripped through it over the weekend.

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