My duties as publisher of the Kiowa County Signal have led me to view the massive destruction on a couple of heart-breaking, gut-wrenching occasions. From a personal standpoint I would have to compare it to what I have heard about Hell, but without the heat.
One week ago the town of Greensburg, Kan. was alive in everyday normalcy. Yards and trees were green and the sky was blue - between the abnormal number of Kansas thunderstorms, that is. Houses and businesses were being spruced up. Kids were playing in the yards, smoke was billowing out from the barbecue grills and farmers were preparing for an outstanding wheat harvest.
Following the tornado of Friday night, May 4, Greensburg is no longer green. Today there are few colors in Greensburg besides gloomy gray, a depressing shade of brown of the totally leafless trees, the piles of red brick of a once-proud downtown, and the red, gold and blue of the light racks atop emergency vehicles. The smell permeating the air is not Kansas beef on the grill but that of wet splintered wood, soaked carpet and sheetrock and an uncertain future.
But don't think for one minute that Greensburg is down and out for the count. Don't forget this is rural Kansas. Rural Kansas has had several opportunities to give up but here we still are. No, Greensburg is a long ways from getting out of the business of being a vibrant community. If I had a farm I would bet it that Greensburg would become a city of survivors.
It absolutely will not be easy. The devastation that was left from the strongest tornado in the United States since 1999 will break the spirit of some locals. There will be residents who decide that now is the time to move on. There will undoubtedly be some businesses that decide to no longer fight the battles. And that is OK. Change can be good for the mind and the body.
But for most, it will take more than 205 mile per hour winds to force them out. These people have roots that cannot and will not be transplanted. Their roots run way too deep. They can be abused above the surface but deep down inside they become even more determined to regroup and continue to grow.
I am amazed and overwhelmed by the show of support, care, concern and love being sent to the people of Greensburg from across the United States just to my computer alone. Newspapers in Greensburg, Ky. and Greensburg, In. are organizing fundraisers to help rebuild. A PTA president in Texas has a classroom of grade school students wanting to help their Kansas peers. Individuals from Washington state and Florida have asked for assistance in how to best help this community. Member papers of the Kansas Press Association have offered personnel and equipment to help the Signal recreate the scenes of devastation.
But my favorite message came from Phyllis, a Memphis native, who wrote, "If anybody was being prayed for more than your town and people, I don't know who it is. WHEN you rebuild, not IF, I do hope you will all take the opportunity to build an absolutely new town in every way. It will be like Extreme Town Makeover. I know you can do it. I will be watching the news to hear what happens."
History is on your side. Several Kansas towns have felt the wrath of Mother Nature in the past several years and have come back stronger than ever. Remember Hesston, Hoisington and Andover. They are your models. They have shown you what it takes and that persistence, dedication and pools of sweat are tools necessary to rebuild. You have good leaders in place at the local level and officials at the state and national level are at your service. Don't be afraid to ask for help. We are all willing to help.
You did not deserve the demolition of your community. The eyes of the country will be watching every move you make. The souls of your neighbors and loved ones you lost will be looking down upon you. Make them proud. Make yourself proud.
Greensburg will again be green because of their strong roots.