Dedicated to the 12 citizens who died as a result

Trip Start May 15, 2011
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Where I stayed
Best Western Night Watchman Inn
What I did
Greensburg Kansas May 4,2007

Flag of United States  , Kansas
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

                                Green tips of growth show new life returning
On May 4th,2007 at 9.50pm a EF 5 tornado tore through the small rural farming community of Greensburg,Kansas in doing so it took up to 95% of homes, the business area and community structures such as the hospital,schools and churches. More importantly it resulted in the eventual death of 12 members of the Greensburg community. This blog is dedicated to their memory in the hope that sharing of the rebirth of Greensburg will be impressional to those who have suffered similiar disasters such as New Orleans (Louisiana), Joplin (Missouri) & Tuscaloosa (Alamaba) who have a long path of recovery still to come.
Even as I write this the TV & Radio are warning of severe storms in Kansas near Wichita.The radio also talks of this weekend's graduation ceremony that the Tuscaloosa community are staging for those who able to receive their awards and the families of those killed in their tornado, truely a step forward.
Preface:
As this blog has grown so has the remoteness to me of some of my readers. So a quick background as it may apply to this blog. I am a rescue worker with the Volunteer Rescue Association www.rescue.org.au in Australia. I also worked for many years as a journalist so I have seen disasters from both sides and feel that the media has a role to play in events.Even these day's I often have the media in contact with me before I even arrive at the scene and they always want a comment so I usually tell them my experiences.
The Greensburg Story:
Therefore I thought why not let the people tell the story in their own words and after speaking with the staff at the Greenhouse, the business incubator,store owners,citizens past and present and outside workers post May 4th. I will draw upon these experiences.
Many of these are published and available for purchase www.greensburgks.org www.greensburggreentown.org  they include:
Aftermath-Merlin Peck
 Tornado! up from the debris to thank God-Eric & Fern Unruh ISBN 978-0-9801971-9-8
Greenburg GreenTown-GreenTour Book-free
                                What is a EF-5 Tornado
Many of my readers in Australia will not be familiar wih these terms.With the growth in technology and data a  new scale of severity for Tornado's evolved with the ranking EF-5(Enchanced Fujita Scale) reserved for those of the highest degree of likelyhood of severe damage with the potential for multiple deaths. They are the most rarest and most severe of all tornado's, this one had winds over 320kmh (200mph) and a width of some 2kms that swallowed up the vitual whole town of 1400 residents.
                                                    Their Stories
The night of May 4th,2007
The farm of Roger & Marsha Yost saw the family involved in usual spring activities and that night together with their son Terrill and his wife Krista as they were about to have supper rain began to hit the windows followed quickly by hail. Someone said "let''s go out to the porch to watch for a while." While there they saw a car parked out front under a tree but with the hail so thick they didnt know who it was.Suddenly a tremendous blast of wind hit their house.The electricity went out and they were in darkness.The storm was intensifying.The wind tore at the house,hail slammed against the building,would the windows break was the question? Quickly all headed downstairs to the storage room while Roger stood at the front door with a flashlight motioning for the stranger in the car to come inside. In the car Ryan and Rachelle Unruh jerked the doors open and grabbed Dylan and Reese,their sons and rushed to the open door. Roger encouraged them to hurry downstairs where his family were gathering covering materials.
 All nature now began to vent it's fury.The power of the tornado and the helpness they felt was impossible to describe. Roger and Ryan were praying "Our father in heaven,we pray for your protection,please keep us safe through this storm." The walls fell in on the stairs they had just used."Oh God our house just went,we dont have a house." Suddenly all became eerily still. "The eye of the storm" someone commented.This was soon shattered by even more ferocious pounding of the wind.Walls were ripped apart and the eerie screech of nails yanked out by brute force of the wind. "It's over!" Roger breathed with relief."We're alive!"
This story was repeated all over town-
On the highway the scene was similiar-The local John Deere dealer, BTI Greensburg,Kansas, on Highway 54 had a complete row of brand new harvesters destroyed. Scores of new combines,tractors and spraying rigs sat many in their original position but totally worthless.One combined was found parked in water outside the destroyed Best Western Motel. Like most of the commercial area few buildings remained one was the lower two floors of the S.D.Robinett Building. This 1915 building was then built with the intention of being fireproof,with over 1 metre thick foundation walls,40cm of exterior brick and a steel reinforcement system for floor and the roof.
What to do after the tornado?
Reporting from the time states that within minutes people from the surrounding areas arrived to offer assistance. In the next few days cities from all over Kansas sent emergency crews along with churches (none of the eleven churches in  Greensburg,remained intact after the tornado) to assist with clean up, emotional support and physical relief efforts assisted by the US National Guard who also oversaw security. Unlike some other areas eg New Orleans the clean up effort was to see the removal of thousands of tonnes of rubbish as soon as possible rather then leave it as a hazard and physical remnder of the event. Progress was made to commence the restoration of Greensburg as a viviable community but in what direction?
The result of community consultation was to rebuild Greensburg as a sustainable green community.Local area resident,Daniel Wallach,one week after the storm offered his help to rebuild as "America's model green community" and from this concept paper GreenTown emerged.GreenTown was established as a non profit organisation to bring in donations to the community and to carry out a mission of education and support to residents and business owners as they sought to build back substainably.Greensburg was and has grown out of the debris to be reborn as a living laboratory and worldwide attraction as a town for the future.
One only has to look at www.greensburggreentown.org to see how this is progressing. Let me with the towns residents tell you of one project the main street redevelopment.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,committed citizens can change the world,indeed,it's the only thing that has ever"- Margaret Mead, in announced on a plague in the Main Street.
After the devasting tornado of May 4,2007 the main street that had served Greensburg and Kiowa County for over 100 years was gone. The one exception was the Robinett building from 1919 which substained major damage but was structurally sound and was restored in the years following the tornado.
Local merchants found the cost to rebuild themselves to be over whelming and not financially sound. It took 18 months to realise that there was no grant money to help these businesses return.
Outside investors came and looked but could not find a way to rebuild and earn "investment returns" they sought. It became evident that if a business district was to return,it would need to be done by the people who lived here.Their only thought of ''investment return'' to these people was having the main street back again.
In December 2008, a group of local Kiowa County citizens formed Kiowa County United Inc. Whose purpose was to provide affordable space for past and future businesses to rent. The only way to accomplish this was to have the building paid for when complete. This would eliminate interest payments and allow KCU Inc to make the rent much lower. To accomplish this goal local members have given from $5000 to $50000 each raising $1m other donations have raised this figure higher. The final cost was $1.5m with the initial $1m being raised in just 2 months. Over 84 local families have donated $5000 or more. The total list of donors was 289. Over the years money generated by KCU Inc will go towards funding other worthy community projects in Kiowa County. The generosity of many donors allowed the project to expand it's original intent. Enough donations flowed in to allow the board to lower it's initial rent rate by 25% (35c per foot/per month). By January 2010 before the building was completed all 10 spaces were committed. The new building was attached to the Robinett Building and designed to reflect the former Main St. That project showcases how to be green as you can with the green that you have available. But the most important story here is one of people who have been hit so hard partnering together and pulling themselves up to make the future of their community better and brighter. Many people sacrificied in other areas of their lives to be able to give to this project.They recognised the importance of rebuilding downtown for their economy,their quality of life,our quaility of life and all our future's.

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Comments

greg lane on

Hi Chris - sounds like the citizens of the UK who are gripped by riots, could use some of the Greensburg spirit. Good blog, keep it coming. Looks like the bikes will be available for pick up around the 22.08.2011. Greg

Christopher on

Glad we are not in London or UK now. More blogs biggest problem is getting reliable internet usually crashes when uploading photo's or posting notifications. My plan was to come on the Thursday night and collect bikes Friday AM wont be in country on 22

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