In what could have passed for a frontier revival meeting in its opening minutes, nearly 500 residents of the Greensburg area squeezed under a large tent on the east edge of town late Friday afternoon for a two-hour town hall meeting.


In what could have passed for a frontier revival meeting in its opening minutes, nearly 500 residents of the Greensburg area squeezed under a large tent on the east edge of town late Friday afternoon for a two-hour town hall meeting.
While the expressed intent was to share information and answer questions, Mayor Lonnie McCollum and City Administrator Steve Hewitt opened the gathering with words of encouragement and anticipation in the aftermath of the May 4 tornado that decimated the county seat of 1,400.
McCollum first called on those present to applaud the volunteers who’ve already lent aid, before urging the weary citizens to likewise cheer for themselves. Both invitations drew standing ovations of nearly a minute.
“One thing I’d like to say, folks, is that we’re going to put this town back together,” McCollum said. “We’re not going to walk away from this. We’re going to rebuild this town and we’re going to do it right.”
Cut short by thunderous applause, McCollum then went on to demonstrate his resolve to recover as quickly as possible, by telling the group he’d paid for the first building permit earlier that day.
“I can tell you the mayor is going to be starting construction next week on his brand new energy efficient house in Greensburg,” McCollum enthused; again bringing the crowd to its feet.
Typically a man who prefers to deal in facts, plans and numbers, Hewitt began by noting, “This is pretty emotional for a lot of people, including myself. But you know what, we’re going to get through it.”
Struggling for a moment to regain his composure, Hewitt continued as he strode toward his mayor, “I love this man. I love this town, and I love this council and I believe we’re going to do it.”
True to form, Hewitt then reverted to his typically businesslike demeanor, saying, “A lot of good things were going on today. We got power from our substation down Olive Street (the easternmost through street in town). We’re working to get you your utilities. And 1,400 loads of debris have been hauled out of town in the last three days.”
 He continued by informing the gathering power would be restored to the courthouse by the first of this week, and that though city hall is currently housed in a trailer, he looked forward to the time such accommodations would become more permanent.
“I don’t plan on staying in a trailer too long,” he said.
School superintendent Darin Headrick’s rhetoric also drew cheers when he told those present that even though the school had lost its facilities, it hadn’t lost “our assets, because we didn’t lose our kids and didn’t lose our staff. We’ve still got what really matters, because we’ve got the people.”
Headrick then outlined what he called a three-phase plan to restore permanent educational facilities in Greensburg, and ultimately, in the county.
The first step he labeled closure, saying the remainder of the school year first needs to be completed, including graduation May 19 on the eastside golf course, which emerged from the storm unscathed. Eighth grade commencement is set for 10:30 a.m., high school seniors to follow at 11. Noting the high school track team was at the league meet at Meade as he spoke, Headrick said the sports schedule would be completed through state competition in golf, track and softball.
The second phase is planning for the opening of school in mid-August, to “make sure there’s facilities in place” for the begging of the next term. “Please be patient,” he cautioned parents, “because a lot can transpire between now and August 15. Details are still sketchy at this point, but we will have school.”
The final phase, of course, is planning for the new school facility, which the superintendent hinted would be undertaken with a forward-looking, long-term view encompassing all of Kiowa County.
“We’re making sure that when we build back…(we’ll have) a brand new school,” he said. “It’ll be bigger and better than we ever had before. We’re going to do it with every kid in Kiowa County in mind. We need to make sure we provide educational opportunity for every kid for the future, not just for now.
“So don’t ask us what the school’s going to look like in three years…Allow us to do step one, then step two, and know that we’re currently planning for step three. We want to make sure our assets, our kids, are taken care of today.”
Over a dozen representatives from other branches of government and relief agencies then spoke and answered questions. Following is a synopsis of the information some of them shared.
>County commissioner Gene West announced the courthouse is “still structurally sound” and that it will be remodeled and restored. He also mentioned the outlying farmers who’d been hit by the tornado, saying “We’re going to be trying to take care of them, too.”
West also mentioned rural mail delivery having been resumed, and that the current courthouse offices have relocated on the second floor of the former Mullinville High School, office hours for the various departments to be 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. starting today. He further said interest and penalties for property taxes due this month have been waived. “Send them to the current courthouse address and they’ll be forwarded to the temporary site in Mullinville,” he said.
>County commissioner Earl Liggett reported “a lot” of the county’s road equipment had been damaged and that the counties of Pratt, Edwards, Comanche and Ford had already begun sending in “men and equipment to work on our county roads.” He also cautioned citizens to carefully sort through their debris, noting three full propane bottles in trucks bound for the burn pile at the north landfill had fortunately been spotted before reaching the blaze.
>County health nurse Mitzi Hesser related her department had thus far given 2,500 tetanus injections and that hers would be one of the few county offices to stay located in Greensburg. She also said Kiowa County Memorial Hospital administrator Mary Sweet was currently working on getting a portable hospital operating on the “west side of town” by the end of this week.
>Mayor McCollum answered a resident’s question as to whether they could stay on personal property throughout the night. “A lot of people have valuables lying in plain sight right now,” the mayor said. “The police patrolling our streets have a hard time telling who the bad guys are, so it’s safer for everyone to follow the curfew.” Residents are still allowed in town only from 8 a.m. through 8 p.m.
>Administrator Hewitt rose again to answer questions, after telling residents they should soon get about the business of removing old cars still lying by the curb. He said those not removed soon would be tagged by the City, and then removed 48 hours later if not moved. The vehicles will be taken to a central location to facilitate the movement of equipment currently removing debris.
 Asked how to know if a contractor is legitimate, Hewitt stressed not giving such businesses any money up front. He also warned residents to check to see if the contractor has been licensed by the City to work in Greensburg. He also said his office was working on a list of legitimate contractors.
Hewitt then told the crowd more town hall meetings would be held in the future and that city council will begin meeting weekly, every Monday, starting at 5 p.m. for the time being. Saying he expected weekly meetings to continue for at least six months, Hewitt said, “We have a lot of issues to deal with.”
The lone contentious moment arose when a resident angrily asked why some locals weren’t allowed to bring their own cleanup equipment into town sooner to tidy their own property. Hewitt responded by saying safety had been the overriding concern. “I felt like it was the right decision at the time,” he stated, drawing thunderous approval from the crowd. Hewitt also commended the communities of Haviland and Mullinville for having “really stepped up.”
Referring to a question as to when electricity and water would be restored, Hewitt cited the query as “the million dollar question.” He said, “It will happen as soon as possible. When, I don’t know.” He then said efforts are being made to get utilities going at one particular site that could be used to locate temporary housing, with restoration then branching out to the remainder of the town.
Asked if generators can run all night, Hewitt said they should be off when the curfew is in effect and that property owners would have responsibility for cleaning lots. He also reminded the crowd that the 15 percent escrow claim against resident’s insurance payments has been waived.
While he pointed out there is currently no deadline for having property cleared, Hewitt did warn the setting of such a time limit would come for health concerns.
>Angie Morgan, state coordinating officer for the disaster urged victims of the storm to register with FEMA, if they have not yet done so. The next step, she said, is to fill out the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan packet, making residents eligible for consideration for a FEMA grant, the maximum of which is $28,200.
“Your first step is with your insurance company,” Morgan said. “And many of you are going to receive a refusal for help from (government) on the basis of you having insurance, but that’s really not the whole story. Later on, you can show your insurance settlement or declaration statement.
“We deal with folks who still have a legitimate need after dealing with insurance. The things the state can help you with are personal property items, transportation, moving and storage, funeral and medical/dental expenses.”
>Chuck Banks, director for USDA rural development said temporary housing apartments are scattered across the state and available for the most needy without a place to stay—primarily seniors and income eligible individuals. He said to call 800 338 5546, or 785 271 2700 to inquire as to the availability and location of such units.
>Ron Gruber, overall manager of Southern Plains Cooperative, was down from Lewis to report the grain elevator in town will “be taking wheat” during harvest next month, and that the facility should be fully operational by fall. He also said remodeling of the office will begin today. The co-op is currently operating out of a mobile trailer unit.
>Richard Shank of ATT said his company has given $30,000 to the tornado relief effort, and that there will be no charge for calls made between the three towns of the county.
>Farrell Allison, president of the Twilight Theatre board, said he’d been in touch with the state department of commerce in regard to the ongoing effort to sell tax credits for what was to have been the restoration of the historic facility that was wiped out by the tornado. He said the department will help the board solicit the rest of the tax credits, and that the theatre “will be rebuilt as far as I know.”
>Kevin Stephenson spoke to those unable to clean their own property, urging them to call 211 if they need but one individual to help out. Coordination of such volunteer help is being handled through United Way of Haviland. Those needing more than one volunteer were told to call (314) 313 4770 to solicit help through AmeriCorps.