Tornado Victims in Kansas Still Reel from Storm Residents of Greensburg, Kan., continue to sift through what's left of their town in the wake of a massive, killer tornado that forecasters say was the biggest to hit the United States in eight years. One more death from the tornado was recorded Tuesday, as a police officer who suffered a head injury in the storm was removed from life support.
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Tornado Victims in Kansas Still Reel from Storm

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Tornado Victims in Kansas Still Reel from Storm

Tornado Victims in Kansas Still Reel from Storm

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Tomorrow, President Bush is expected to visit Greensburg, Kansas, the town obliterated by a tornado last week. Ten people died and nearly every building in the town of 1,600 was destroyed.

The president will find a tight knit community that is facing one big question: will the town survive? He'll also find the governor, Kathleen Sebelius, who has said that Kansas National Guard equipment that's been deployed to Iraq has made it difficult to recover after the storm.

White House spokesman Tony Snow in turn has blamed Sebelius for not making the state's needs known more quickly. NPR's Jeff Brady is in Greensburg, where he reports, people are already talking about rebuilding.

JEFF BRADY: Here in Greensburg, the folks working on the ground say they're staying out of the politics - over whether troops deployed to Iraq left this community vulnerable. They already have their hands full. Town leaders do say they've pretty much gotten what they needed from the military.

Greensburg Mayor Lonnie McCollum says help is coming in from far and wide now, and his town needs it.

Mayor LONNIE McCOLLUM (Greensburg, Kansas): I've been staying in the front seat of my friend's pickup right now. That's my bedroom.

BRADY: McCollum's three-story yellow house is barely recognizable. The same is true for about 500 other homeowners.

Mayor McCOLLUM: We're going to rebuild. We've got a brand new town here. We're going to have a brand new town and, you know, we have one of the state's top tourist attractions.

BRADY: Right in the middle of town is the world's largest hand dug well. McCollum says more than 30,000 people a year stop by to see what is, in essence, a huge hole on the ground. It used to be easy to tell where the well was located. A water tower rose above it with the words, big well, painted on the side. But now, that tower is just a bunch of twisted wreckage. Ipra Boss'(ph) family lives right across the street.

Ms. IPRA BOSS (Resident, Greensburg, Kansas): I was actually amazed to how big the top of the tower was, because it was so tall. Before, you can never actually tell the magnitude of how big it is until it smashed on the ground.

BRADY: A few blocks away, Nancy Jones(ph) is ripping sheets of paper from a notebook.

Ms. NANCY JONES (Resident, Greensburg, Kansas): Well, the pictures were soaking wet and so we started putting paper in between them and they're drying. If you don't get them apart quick, then they stick together and you're out of luck.

BRADY: Jones drove here from Missouri on Sunday to help her stepdaughter's family clean up. The house behind is a total loss. But the owners say they want to rebuild.

Around Greensburg, there is a determination to work hard and bring the town back. A few of those say they've had enough. Chad Been(ph) drove down from Nebraska to help his parents clean up the remains of their house. It's standing in front of a six-foot tall, red air compressor that was just freed from wreckage.

Mr. CHADU BEEN (Resident, Nebraska): We had some Nebraskan ingenuity - pulled the barn down to get the air compressor out, but it's worth it.

BRADY: Been says the house has been in his family for several generations. But this morning, he put a for-sale sign out front.

Mr. BEEN: Well, the plan is to get this cleaned up as fast and as soon as possible, get the paperwork done, cross the T's, dot the I's and bring it back to Nebraska. We're going to take them home.

BRADY: So they're not going to be living here in Greensburg anymore?

Mr. BEEN: As far as I'm concerned, they're done. This is it. They're coming home.

BRADY: Even the folks from FEMA - who are used to seeing disasters like this -seem surprised by the extent of devastation in Greensburg. This is Dick Hainje, speaking at a press conference today.

Mr. DICK HAINJE (Director, FEMA): We've lost the entire business community and the entire housing stock, except for maybe just a few houses. So - and the schools and the courthouse and the county buildings and the city buildings. And that is unique.

BRADY: Greensburg mayor says the priority right now is getting the utilities turned back on. That means, first, excavating the poles, lines and meters from under mounts of debris. Then once the sewer and water lines are working again, FEMA can bring in trailers so residents can return. But that could still be weeks away.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Greensburg, Kansas.

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