Three years ago tonight an exceptionally violent tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, Kansas. With winds more than 200 miles an hour, the rare EF-5 twister claimed 10 fatalities in this town of 1,400. The tornado was 1.7 miles wide and it flattened nearly 1,000 homes and destroyed almost all businesses. Additionally, thousands of picture albums, family heirlooms and other irreplaceable possessions were lost forever.
For seven nights and eight days I represented the American Red Cross in its disaster relief efforts. My role as a Public Affairs Supervisor provided me with unusual access to the restricted areas. When I first parked my Red Cross vehicle, I walked through what was left of the town and saw firsthand the widespread devastation. Block after block after block, houses and businesses were gone. Thick steels bars were wrapped around the stumps of huge oak trees. Cars were upside down under layers of brick, wood and concrete. The drug store, the local café and the post office had been blown away.
I took nearly 500 pictures, though they inadequately captured the magnitude of the devastation. Without using clichés I found it difficult to describe the destruction. Yes, it looked like a war zone. From its appearance, the town could have been leveled by a huge bomb.
The people of Greensburg lost everything, or so it seemed to me as an observer. Yet they were grateful for what they had – their lives, their families, and each other. What impressed me most about this rural Kansas community was the incredible human spirit. These hardy individuals rose to the occasion. Despite their loss, the townspeople stood strong. From across the nation, they were surrounded by strangers who were united in one common cause – helping the storm victims to heal and to rebuild their lives. Read the rest of this entry »