Residents and officials of Greensburg, Kan., talk about rebuilding the town after a tornado ripped through the area May 4.
The homes, businesses and possessions of the 1,400 people who lived in Greensburg may be battered and destroyed, but their pride in their community remains steadfast.
Many are saying that spirit will help the rural town rise from the
wreckage caused by a tornado the evening of May 4.
“The people here are used to doing things for themselves,” said Greensburg Mayor Lonnie McCollum. “Give them the time to plan, ... and they will kick into gear.”
If they can’t get something done themselves, they know someone in town who can help them out, he said.
McCollum is driving the effort to rebuild even after 90 percent of the
town’s structures were destroyed.
Even before some families had made their way back to the town to survey damage, he said that the town will rebuild city hall, schools and the hospital. With those facilities in place, he hopes people also will return.
Resident Rhonda Hammond said she hopes the town recovers, too.
“It depends on the people, though,” she said of the town’s chances of
success. “They’ll have to stick it out; they’ll have to tough it out.”
The work ethic that’s driven the town in the past will get it through this challenge, said Josh Dellenbach, who lived in Greensburg with his
“If the National Guard is out here working, guess who’s going to be working, too? The people in this town,” he said.
Even if people relocate, Dellenbach said he couldn’t see people abandoning their property with piles of debris and never looking back — it’s just not in the nature of the Greensburg people.
The key to rebuilding is going to be team work, Devan Dellenbach said.
“People are already out here helping each other,” she said. “It’s easy to get into the mode of just doing for yourself, but we can’t do that.”
And it’s that community-minded spirit that has the couple seriously weighing their options. Their home is a total loss, and they have to decide if they want to rebuild or move to another community.
He’s a junior high teacher, and she works at a preschool.
“It’s hard to think that at the lowest point in these kids’ lives their
teacher, one of the biggest influences on them, someone they see almost every day, might leave them,” Devan Dellenbach said.
But Josh Dellenbach said it just wasn’t time to commit to staying or
Nevertheless, he sees a resiliency in Greensburg that he associates with the values of the Middle West.
Rod Bradley, a retired physician who lived in the town for 42 years, said he also believes it can be rebuilt.
He and his wife, Shirley, won’t be living in the town to see it, though.
People will stay and rebuild, especially the young, he said, but like many older couples in town, they say the cleanup will be too long and stressful.
“It’s going to take several years to recover from this, and I don’t know if I have several years left,” Rod Bradley said.
Still, they plan to support the efforts in whatever way they can.
Other people who have long left the town are giving it a second look now. Former resident Lori Richard said had spoken with people she grew up with who had moved away. They are talking about how they want to move back to town and pitch in.
“They want to make a difference,” she said. “And that’s awesome. They can come back and help rebuild this town and make a living.”
Bradley said he appreciates the young people’s desire to come back to
“We want to support them, even if we’re not here, to some extent,” he said.
OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE NEEDED
As Richard sifts through the debris that surrounds her demolished home that was on the market, the work is slow going. They don’t have a wheel barrel, and they have only one shovel.
But they and all the other families have a lot to clean up on the road to
That, just about everybody said, will require outside assistance.
Besides its infrastructure being decimated, the town’s economy is stagnant, too. Only three businesses survived, and many people are likely without jobs.
“To move ahead, it will take assistance. There is no way we can deal with this on the local or even state level,” Josh Dellenbach said. “But whatever aid we get, it’s going to be matched with work ethic.”
Richard said she thinks people will definitely need the help of agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“They’ll have to have support from somewhere,” she said. “I just don’t know what people will do without jobs and businesses.”
Already FEMA is in town helping families access federal disaster funds, and volunteer agencies are hooking residents up with resources.
In a message of encouragement, Congressman Jerry Moran said the people of Greensburg are “resilient” people.
Outreach is coming from all over the state as Kansans wait with hammers and shovels to help rebuild, Moran said.
Richard just hopes the support is enough to get the town back on its feet.
LONG ROAD AHEAD
McCollum wants to see young professionals come to town, and he thinks a brand new city could be just the thing to attract them. But he knows there’s a long, uncomfortable road ahead.
Still, he and City Administrator Steve Hewitt are working on plans to lead the residents down the path ahead.
The first sign of recovery, McCollum said, will be when the government is up and running. The city is offering information at this point, and will resume operations, where possible, as soon as a temporary city hall is established.
City Administrator Steve Hewitt has said that the city will help a chunk of residents by fulfilling its payroll obligations.
“It’s going to take a long time, no doubt,” he said. “But we will get
Besides, McCollum said, Greensburg residents’ community spirit would never allow them to leave behind the town’s real pride and joy — a half-ton pallasite meteorite and the world’s largest hand-dug well.
Bradley said the leaders driving the efforts forward will play an
important role. Their message has to be a positive for success, he said.
“ ‘Can’t’ do anything, but ‘can’ does,” he said. “If you give up now,
nothing will happen.”