Pratt was sprayed with sunshine Saturday, May 5. Cloudy skies and humidity accompanied the sunshine.
As I headed out to Greensburg just after 1 p.m., I thought I would follow a caravan of cars and trucks west and meet the same.
Until I hit Haviland, I was alone in the westbound lane.
As I drove, I was thinking what I would find?
Friday night’s TV reports were vague and riffed with questions, conjecture and unverified reports.
I lived in a Pennsylvania town where a tornado hit on a Friday night. Fortunately, its path stayed consistent and it did not enter the heart of the town, skirting its southern edge.
Along 54 there were no signs of a level 4 or 5 tornado.
A checkpoint in Haviland was the first indication something had happened. Once I was waved through the checkpoint, my grip on the steering wheel tightened. Was I preparing myself for the worst?
The sky’s ceiling sagged, gray, into the horizon. The air cooled.
Approaching Greensburg I saw flashing lights, Army National Guardsmen stopped me and asked my intentions. I explained I was with the Pratt Tribune and was wondering if
I could survey the damage. If I was turned back, there would be no rating or raving. They didn’t need someone else to worry about.
They granted me permission to enter the city and I headed to the Kansas Inn, the way station for media.
There were a few signs of the tornado’s destruction as I eased into the city, a tractor trailer on its side, a bench at the golf course flipped over, and litter.
Next to the Kansas Inn laid a pre-fabricated roof. It appeared it had resided on the tire shop building across the street.
About 45 minutes after arriving, the media was led into the city by the Kansas National guard. Twenty yards down 54 from the inn, it began. Webster’s Dictionary definition for “devastation” would not define the scene.
Me? I was in awe.
Buildings had their windows blown out, smothered by their own bricks, roofs. Cars looked as if they were pounded by King Kong with sledge hammers.
As we crossed Main Street, we parked next to the NAPA store on 54.
I looked south. One, two damaged houses, three, fourth they stretched into the blackening horizon. Man.
The streets resembled the Allies’ bombing of Berlin. Trees appeared assaulted by machetes. No leaves, shredded, sheared at the top. A damaged Kiowa County Sheriff cruiser sat on a street next to a house.
I later couldn’t figure out if I was overwhelmed or didn’t understand the immensity of the damage. Sunday, I realized there was nothing in the immediate area to compare it to.
Unlike a fire, where you see the blacken chards of a house’s walls or roof, in Greensburg houses was swept off their foundations or crushed by the tornado’s ruthlessness.
As I crept out of Greensburg on Saturday, toward Pratt, it began to rain. It poured until I hit the Pratt County line. Then it stopped.
In Pratt, there was green grass and well-manicured homes, and traffic. I couldn’t remember if the grass was green in Greensburg, except at the courthouse.
I cannot begin to understand the pain of losing possessions. But I do know what was not loss in Greensburg - memories. Entangled among the shattered TV screens, twisted power lines, and piles of bricks is hope.
The hope is the community is reborn and can make new memories.