Rebuilding After a Kansas Tornado As the cleanup and rebuilding efforts get under way after Friday's Category 5 tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan., residents of a nearby town recall a similar trial they faced. Longtime residents of Udall, Kan., saw their town hit by a monster twister in 1955. Michele Norris talks with Jerrold Hoffman, 72.
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Rebuilding After a Kansas Tornado

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Rebuilding After a Kansas Tornado

Rebuilding After a Kansas Tornado

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Greensburg residents - who are wondering how or if the town will recover -might find a bit of solace in the story of another Kansas town wiped out of by a tornado. On May 25, 1955 at 10:30 in the evening, a tornado destroyed Udall, Kansas, a small town south of Wichita. It injured or killed nearly half of its 610 residents, and it was the deadliest tornado to hit the state of Kansas.

Seventy-two-year-old Jerrold Hoffman remembers that day, and 52 years later he talks about exactly what happened that night.

Mr. JERROLD HOFFMAN (Resident, Udall, Kansas): I was dating at that time, and we had just been downtown to get some milk for her dad. And we came back and I was sitting in the car with her. In just a few more minutes she would've been in the house. But it started haling and I kind of joked to her and said, oh maybe, I'd get a new paint job on this car. And so pulled up a little close to the side of the house as I could to try to protect my car. And about that time, one of these galvanized washtubs come up flying across and hit me on the side of the car.

Oh man. And then I looked up and I saw the eaves of the house coming off. And I think I might saw her dad in the house with a flashlight. He just got a flashlight. And then everything happened, all the noise and roaring and everything. And the windows in the car actually imploded, and it seemed like it isn't several minutes ride in that car. Fortunately, neither one of us got hurt.

When it was all over, I looked outside and saw her dad out there with a flashlight uttering, what is that idiot doing outside in weather like this? Well, there wasn't any house. Lots of stories. Lots of stories.

NORRIS: After the storm - I've pictures - the town was absolutely leveled. Was there a discussion about whether or not the town would rebuild.

Mr. HOFFMAN: No question. It would be rebuilt.

NORRIS: And did the process start almost immediately?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Yes. Of course, you got to do a lot of cleanup. And then there's a few that had guts enough to come back to build houses. And once that happened then it started coming back together. To me, what I see in Greensburg - they'll have no problem - well, yes, they'll have problems. I mean, they will put it together. And there's going to be problems along the way. I know that. They just make certain they did it right.

NORRIS: Do it right. So what do you need to do to make sure that you do it right?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Don't let any cheap housing come in. Like, don't let FEMA keep their stuff there forever. You know what I'm saying.

NORRIS: Oh, so temporary housing becomes permanent.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Yeah. You know, temporary left there, and everything be built by code. And I'm assuming Greensburg owns their water system. If that's not done properly they can have trouble - because actually, every house connection should go clear back to the mainline, brand new stuff. This didn't happen in Udall. They go back to these little ways, cut it off, then we had some old stuff for this giving us trouble for quite a few years.

NORRIS: Could you describe for us what Udall looks like today?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Udall looks like a new town. Didn't look like an old town. You don't have the old chamois and things like that, you know. We don't have anything of a historical building. And for years, when you drive into town, you'd think, what's wrong? What it is, is no trees. There are no squirrels; there are no birds, nothing. And it takes a long time to get the trees back. And Udall is going to be working on a project to help them get some trees back in that town.

NORRIS: Back in Greensburg.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Yes. That'll probably be fall before we do that, because that's when you plant the trees.

NORRIS: As someone who's gone through this - for people in Greensburg who are trying to assess the damage and figuring out how they're going to get on with their lives - do you have any advice for them?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Don't look back. Don't look back. Just - you have to take what you got. You've lost everything, you just start up again and go. Enjoy what you have and enjoy that fact that you lived.

NORRIS: Well, Mr. Hoffman, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. HOFFMAN: All rightie. Anytime.

NORRIS: Take care.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Mm-hmm. Bye.

NORRIS: We were speaking to Jerrold Hoffman, a resident of the town of Udall, Kansas, a town that was rebuilt after being destroyed by a deadly tornado back in 1955.

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