Kansas families return to town in ruins
GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Searchers found a person alive in the rubble that was once Greensburg two days after a powerful tornado largely obliterated the town, officials said Monday as residents began the grim return to their destroyed homes.
The person was found late Sunday, providing hope for other discoveries, said Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Ron Knoefel. Knoefel did not provide other details.
This is a breaking news update. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) – Traffic backed up on roads into town Monday as families returned to see if there was anything left to salvage from the country’s most powerful tornado in years.
Police checked identification and reminded residents they would have to leave by 6 p.m.
Earlier Monday, search crews began a third sweep of Greensburg for more victims, though the state’s adjutant general said he didn’t expect to find any. The tornado, part of a weekend of violent storms across the Plains, claimed at least eight lives in the town of 1,500 residents; two died elsewhere in the state.
“We’ve been over the town twice now – all of our partners around the state, the experts from cities with technical search-and-rescue,” Maj. Gen. Todd Bunting, the state’s adjutant general, told CNN on Monday morning. “We’ve done everything we can.
“Some of this rubble is 20, 30 feet deep. That’s where we’ve spent all our efforts, and we’ll do it again today.”
Evacuated residents waiting to get back into Greensburg waited in a line of vehicles nearly 2 miles long outside city limits Monday. Utility repair crews arriving from other cities added to the traffic jam.
Near downtown, insurance agent Scott Spark, a 13-year resident of Greensburg, hauled papers out of his wrecked office. He had already been to his destroyed home.
“I could probably have salvaged some more stuff if I had been able to get back, but I understand how it is,” he said of the restrictions. “I mean, they were still having tornadoes last night. I understand they want everybody to be safe.”
Little remained standing in Greensburg but the grain elevator. The F-5 tornado demolished every business on the main street. Churches lost their steeples, trees were stripped of their branches and neighborhoods were flattened. Officials estimate as much as 95 percent of the town was destroyed.
The tornado’s wind was estimated to have reached 205 mph as it carved a track 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long.
R. David Paulison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, planned to tour the devastation later Monday for the first time since the tornado hit Friday night. President Bush had already declared parts of Kansas a disaster area, freeing up federal money to aid the recovery.
The storm system that swept south-central Kansas also spawned tornadoes in Illinois, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Nebraska.
On Monday, thunderstorms again stretched across the central Plains, and the National Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm warnings for parts of Texas. In Topeka, the Kansas capital, flooding forced hundreds of people out of their homes early Monday, closed schools and blocked streets and highways around the state.
“The rescuers brought rafts up to the houses. My car’s flooded in right now,” Kim Moore said of her neighborhood in Topeka.
In southwest Iowa, nearly 1,600 residents of Red Oak and all of tiny Coburg were urged to evacuate Monday as the East Nishnabotna River and a creek rose out of their banks. Flood stage at Red Oak is 18 feet but the river had already hit 25.7 feet early Monday and was still rising, said Adam Wainwright, emergency management coordinator for Montgomery County.
In Greensburg, only residents were being allowed back into town. As they entered, law enforcement officials compiled a list of people whose whereabouts were still unknown.
Since the tornado hit, emergency responders have had little indication of how many people may be safe with friends or relatives elsewhere.
Though Bunting said he believed everyone had been found, fresh search dogs were still being brought in from Missouri to continue the hunt for possible survivors and victims amid the debris.
Four soldiers from Fort Riley and a reserve police officer were arrested Sunday on suspicion of looting cigarettes and alcohol from a Greensburg store, state officials said. The soldiers weren’t assigned to help in Greensburg, but police had allowed them to move freely because they were in uniform, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general’s office.
The National Weather Service classified the tornado an F-5, the highest category and the first F-5 since the weather service revised its scale this year to more comprehensively gauge damage potential, with less emphasis on wind speed. The last tornado classified as an F-5 hit the Oklahoma City area on May 3, 1999, killing 36 people.
The governor said the state’s response was limited by the shifting of emergency equipment, such as tents, trucks and semitrailers, to the war in Iraq.
“Not having the National Guard equipment, which used to be positioned in various parts of the state, to bring in immediately is really going to handicap this effort to rebuild,” Sebelius said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was bringing in travel trailers to house some residents.
School superintendent Darin Headrick said classes would be canceled for the rest of the academic year in Greensburg, and graduation would be held elsewhere.
City Administrator Steve Hewitt said his job Monday would be to get city government working again. He said he needed to find employees, get purchase orders out, pay employees and bills – in short, create commerce again in Greensburg.
“Get government going – that is our No. 1 priority,” Hewitt said.
On the Net:
Tornado Project: http://www.tornadoproject.com/