Is Kansas Cursed? Residents Rebuild, Again This year, Kansas has suffered some of the most expensive disasters in its history. It has been pummeled by ice storms, tornadoes and floods causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The stream of catastrophes led Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to quip recently, "The locusts may come next."
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Is Kansas Cursed? Residents Rebuild, Again

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Is Kansas Cursed? Residents Rebuild, Again

Is Kansas Cursed? Residents Rebuild, Again

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It has been a record-year in Kansas but no in a good way. The state has suffered some of its most expensive disasters in history. Kansas was pummeled by ice storms, tornados and floods, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Governor Kathleen Sebelius recently remarked that the locusts may come next.

From Kansas City, NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: 2007 has been rough on Kansas, with disasters steadily marching from west to east. Of the 105 counties in the state, so far this year, 82 have been deemed eligible for federal disaster relief. The trouble began at the New Year with an ice and snowstorm hitting the west of Kansas.

Angie Morgan is the state coordinating officer for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She said the winter storm that shut down the western third of the state was one of the most costly, ever to hit the region.

Ms. ANGIE MORGAN (State Coordinating Officer, Kansas Division of Emergency Management): So far we - our estimates are $370 million worth of infrastructure with 360 of that being utility poles and substation.

BEAUBIEN: In addition to crumpling power lines, the ice and snow killed thousands of cattle. Agricultural losses from the storm are still being tallied.

Ms. MORGAN: We just kind of closed down our response on that and started getting our feet back, so to speak, when we had the large F520 to go through our small - one of our small southwestern Kansas counties.

BEAUBIEN: That tornado on May 4th flattened almost every building in the small city of Greensburg. Insurance claims from the city of fourteen hundred people exceed $150 million so far. Several months after the disaster, most of Greensburg remains littered in rubble.

Benjamin Alexander is with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and he's working on a long-term recovery plan for the city.

Mr. BENJAMIN ALEXANDER (Federal Emergency Management Agency): In this situation, I mean, there's nothing left. I mean, there's a few pockets here and there.

BEAUBIEN: He says the destruction is so massive that residents have to work to create an entirely new town.

Mr. ALEXANDER: And this is an opportunity for the community to look at a clean slate and say, what was missing, what do we want to put back, and how do we want to put it back.

BEAUBIEN: But not knowing whether businesses or residents are going to come back adds to the difficulty of rebuilding Greensburg.

City councilmember Bethel Thronesbery says his church is trying to decide how big their new house of worship should be.

Mr. BETHEL THRONESBERY (Councilmember, Greensburg): If we build it back too big, we won't have the members to support. And we don't build it back big enough, well, we made a mistake there. So what are we going to do? What's going to be the right way? That's a big problem.

BEAUBIEN: After the intense winds were over, the floods came. They started in the middle of the state and moved east. The place hit hardest was Coffeyville in the southeast corner of Kansas. On July 1st, thousands of Coffeyville residents were driven from their homes when the Verdigris River rose more than 10 feet above flood stage. Water inundated the east side of town, covering some houses up to their eaves. The flood also overran a major gasoline refinery, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil. After the floodwater has receded, sticky, black residue clung to houses, trees and blades of grass.

Emergency officials declared 300 homes in one neighborhood to be completely destroyed. The flood also ruined 70 businesses, including six of Coffeyville's seven motels. The city officials say they're still trying to calculate the financial losses from the flood. Meanwhile, the city is trying to decide what to do with the devastated area along the Verdigris River.

Again, Angie Morgan with the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

Ms. MORGAN: So we've really had our share of disasters this year and we're hoping that's it for us.

BEAUBIEN: And it may be that Mother Nature's calamitous track across Kansas this year is over. But judging from the trajectory, people in Missouri just have to hope the troubles aren't headed their way.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Kansas City.

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