The tornado that hit Greensburg, Kansas had its start in Comanche County near Protection then moved northeast into Kiowa County and took direct aim at Greensburg. Homes south of town were the first to feel the wrath of the storm. They were leveled first and then the tornado moved into Greensburg
Their homes, their businesses, their town have all been destroyed. Eight of their neighbors are dead and dozens are injured from a monster tornado that relentlessly made its way across the entire city of 1,400 on Friday night and smashed Greensburg to bits.
Homes, businesses, churches, schools, hospital, law enforcement, infrastructure were all severely damaged or destroyed in just a couple of minutes leaving Greensburg in the dark and needing massive amounts of help.
The tornado that hit Greensburg had its start in Comanche County near Protection then moved northeast into Kiowa County and took direct aim at Greensburg. Homes south of town were the first to feel the wrath of the storm. They were leveled and then the tornado moved into Greensburg.
The National Weather Service had issued severe thunderstorm and tornado watches for the area. When storm spotters confirmed the storm and direction of travel, a tornado warning was issued and tornado sirens began to sound in Greensburg about 9:25 p.m. giving Greensburg 20 minutes of lead-time, said Jeff Johnson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service out of Dodge City.
Many residents had been watching the news and knew it was coming. The sirens alerted the town to take action and head underground. The tornado arrived at 9:45 p.m.
The exact center of tornado was on the west side of town. Storm spotters had pictures of the wedge shaped tornado that was a mile and a half wide at its widest. It was an F5 tornado, said Dan McCarthy of the National Severe Storms Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
For the next couple of minutes Greensburg residents hung on as their town came down around them. Several survivors said the tornado just went on and on and on.
Houses exploded, brick buildings collapsed in a heap, trees were stripped bare and some were pulled out of the ground. Cars were thrown about like toys. Loaded semis were tossed on top of each other. The familiar Big Well water town crumpled to the ground in a pile of twisted metal.
The John Deer Greensburg Tractor and Implement building was shredded and twisted metal along with other debris was wrapped around $250,000 combines.
Then it was gone and people began coming out of what was left of their houses. The impact was stark and immediate.
“You wont believe what our town looks like,” said Judy McIntosh, whose house was severely damaged. “It looks like a bomb exploded.”
People began helping themselves and each other. Electricity, water, cell phone towers, all utilities were gone. Greensburg couldn’t even call for help. But help was already on the way from all over Kansas. Pratt emergency services had been watching the storm and immediately headed for Greensburg. The first reports were that the town had 60 percent damage but that was later updated to 90 percent. The call went out and ambulances came from counties all over Kansas. Other emergency equipment from all over the state headed for Greensburg as fast they could get there. Emergency units from Miami County by Kansas City were offered if necessary.
Emergency units including police and sheriff’s departments, state troopers, firefighters, rescue crews, linemen, all headed to Greensburg.
Command posts were set up and the injured were placed in ambulances and sent to hospitals.
Pratt Regional Medical Center prepared for numerous causalities and didn’t have long to wait. The highway between Pratt and Greensburg was closed to everything but emergency vehicles. It became a speedway for ambulances that raced to Pratt with injured then turned around and headed back to Greensburg. Some patients were transferred to Wichita.
To the west, Mullinville and Dodge City took in the homeless and injured.
Rescue efforts continued all night and into the next day. School busses were brought into shelters were set up in Haviland at the high school and Barclay College.
On Saturday the town was evacuated of all but emergency personnel. Survivors went to shelters or found other places to live with family or friends. Every business and house was searched. Eight had died in Greensburg and one in Pratt County. Dozens were injured. All were displaced and face an uncertain future.
The tornado moved on and traveled a total distance of 22 miles finally dissipated but not before brushing the northwest corner of Pratt County at 10:45 p.m. where it destroyed or severely damaged several homes in the Hopewell area. One home was completely destroyed and a man was killed. It was the only fatality in Pratt County from the tornado.
The storm produced three tornados. It was on the ground for about two hours. It was a unique tornado because of its strength and the length of time it lasted. Johnson said.
The tornado continued on a northeast path, hitting Ellinwood and finally dissipating near Ellsworth, a distance of well over 100 miles.
The storm system that spawned the tornado didn’t move and on Saturday set off a lot of small funnels in Pratt and other counties that were weaker including one that hit Trousdale. Damage in Trousdale is still being assessed. On Sunday, the system dumped copious amounts of rain on Pratt and Stafford Counties causing flooding and several more funnel clouds were sited in Pratt County.
McIntosh, husband Gene and son Tyler, were all uninjured. Daughter Katarina was out of town at a state forensics tournament as were several other students. They come home the next day to homes that weren’t there.