Their locations south of town serve as a graphic roadmap of the path traveled by the F5 killer after crossing the county line, more or less paralleling US 183 until taking a slight turn to the east five miles south of Greensburg—a turn that proved deadly for the city.
North of town several farms were hit before the monster expired in the midst of a pasture. The carnage was not, however, yet at an end, as a smaller cousin was spun off to wreak more havoc in the northeastern regions of the county.
Though largely overlooked by the media and concentrated relief efforts, reactions to their relative obscurity in what has become a national story varies from one farm to the next, as shown in the comments of three women.
Only 20 years old and a graduate of Pratt High School, Jackie Porter was at home that fateful evening in the farm house where she and husband, Andrew, have lived since last July, just under a mile north of Greensburg’s city limits. With Andrew working for farmer Ki Gamble, the couple lives there rent free as part of his compensation. Gamble is half-a-mile south of them, barely outside the edge of town.
Porter tells of her husband having been south of Greensburg with Gamble planting corn the afternoon of May 4. They spotted the funnel cloud moving toward town as they were heading home for the day.
The Porter’s rode out the storm in a belowground, eight by ten foot storm cellar, much like the one used by Dorothy’s family in the Wizard of Oz. Once the storm had passed, their residence was a shambles, the house having been moved several inches off its foundation, the basement wall severely cracked and crumbling under the stress. Porter said Gamble hasn’t yet decided whether to try to salvage the house.
Though grateful to be alive, Porter has felt a sense of abandonment in the days following the storm, which she finds frustrating in her close proximity to town. So close, and yet so far away.
“We feel really neglected because they’ve been going around and checking houses in town for survivors, but nobody’s been here,” Porter related Friday morning. “We haven’t had any police out here.”
Asked if she wishes President Bush had been able to make a couple of rural stops last Wednesday in his visit to the county, Porter doesn’t hesitate in saying, “It would have been nice, because we’d like to know we’re not forgotten out here. We’d like somebody to know we’re still alive and that we do need help out here.”
Minnie Koehn, on the other hand, is not only on the other side of Greensburg, but on the other side of the issue. The 71-year-old and her farmer husband, Dewey, live with their disabled daughter three miles straight south of town. Having been on the farmstead for 52 years, the tornado devoured the brick farmhouse the two built in 1978.
Keeping track of the twister’s progress on weather radio, Koehn said the three of them took shelter when “they said it was five miles south of town and had crossed the highway (US 183).”
Saying the smashed farm struck her as “devastated” when first surveying the damage, Koehn later felt fortunate after seeing the leveled town north of her.
“When I saw how it was in town, I felt really blessed because we could save quite a bit of our stuff,” she said. “We weren’t restricted here in the country from returning home like they were in town, so we were able to save a lot of things before the rain got it.”
The couple got all the volunteer workers they needed from family in Montezuma and Cimarron who “came right away the next day. We don’t feel neglected because of them.”
As for the stricken farmers’ plight not receiving the coverage of those in town, Koehn waves off the notion of resentment. “We don’t want no media coverage,” she said. “I know Bush was only in town, but I understand why. I’m just glad he was there for the towns people.”
Plenty of help and concern…
Middle-aged and single, the third woman, Darcy Harris used to live around two miles southwest of Minnie Koehn. Living with her parents in Minneola for now, Harris was a rural resident with a business in town, having owned and run the Lunch Box the last three years, a little burger and ice cream restaurant on the west edge of town.
Just closing shop when she heard the sirens that night, Harris rushed to a friend’s in town to take shelter in their basement. What she saw the next day was a total loss in terms of her house. What she sees now is an opportunity.
“I was thinking of moving to town because of having to drive back and forth and keeping this place up,” she said. “But now, I don’t know. I may rebuild here, or in town. But I am definitely rebuilding the Lunch Box.
“It may be in the same place, or it may be on the south side of town on some lots I own, but it will be one of those two places, bigger and better than it was.”
Harris’s post-storm experience has also been different from that of Porter, as she said someone’s been out to help or check on her every day since the storm hit.
“The Mennonites have been in here,” she said. “In fact, they helped me load some furniture Saturday night. The Red Cross stopped a couple of times and several townspeople also.”
Like Koehn, Harris notes the advantage of accessibility for those in the country, saying, “I could get back into my place the next day. I know it must have been hard for those from town having to wait the whole weekend while it rained on their stuff.”
Not sure whether Ki Gamble will decide to level their house in favor of a modular home, or try to salvage it, the Porters’ are unsure what type of housing they’ll have a year from now. The Koehn’s haven’t decided about rebuilding.
Harris, however, said she’s never doubted for one minute she’d rebuild both her home and her business.
“Greensburg needs to rebuild, and being a business owner I feel if I start rebuilding, maybe it’ll help change some people’s minds that might be thinking of going,” she said.
“If they’re going to rebuild the school and hospital, we’ll need people. People will be there in the years to come, and I’ll be one of them.”