Saturday, May 05, 2007

Greensburg Kansas Tornado Part 5

Requests for information on the Greensburg Kansas tornado have slowed down, but are continuing. I will share what else I've learned since my last post. I am just trying to summarize what I'm learning from media outlets.

The tornado that hit Greensburg last night was more than a mile wide at times. It covered 26 miles, from south of Greensburg to Holyrood. (That's pronounced "holly-rude" - like the Christmas plant and people who are not nice.) Nine are confirmed dead and dozens injured. Most injuries reported by the Pratt hospital where the majority of the injured were taken were mostly lacerations, bruises and things of that nature - ranging from mild to severe.

Search and rescue was called off for the night late this afternoon. Officials have made multiple searches to look for people, but simply have to rest. Many of the people there arrived in the wee hours of the morning when the tornado hit and have been onsite for many hours. News reporters are saying there are still rescue vehicles with search lights heading into Greensburg, so obviously some work is continuing, although search will officially resume at 8 a.m.

Greensburg was evacuated last night and one of the problems has been that many people are staying with family or friends and there's no record of where they are. Officials are trying to account for everyone. Some residents have written "OK" on the side of their houses to let people know they're safe.

Power is still off and will remain off for the near future. The water tower is down, so in order to live there again some serious changes will have to be made. Town officials are concerned about the future of the town, given the extent of the damage. But historically, towns rebuild after such things. It's just a bit overwhelming initially.

I've heard estimates as high as 95% but the National Guard is saying 90% of the town is gone. Still standing are a grain elevator and the courthouse. The building near The Big Well, Greensburg's tourist attraction, was destroyed. Because the well itself is mostly underground I'm assuming it is fine.

There is a curfew of 8-8 in effect. Officials are worried about looting and will arrest anyone in Greensburg when the curfew is in effect. The media was given an opportunity to tour the damage late this afternoon and were told that would be their last chance for the day.

Many survivors are at the Red Cross Shelter in Haviland, about 10 miles away from Greensburg. One survivor there said in an interview, "Our souls are broke, but we are still here, we're alive, and I thank God for that."

Shelters include:
Barclay College
Mullinville High School
Haviland High School

Lakewood Senior Center in Wichita has 22 beds available for people who have been displaced by the Greensburg tornado. Call 316-722-6916 for more information on that.

Greensburg was the most severely hit, but there was other damage last night including two houses destroyed in Macksville and some trees down in Ellinwood.

President Bush has declared Kiowa county (where Greensburg is) a disaster area. FEMA is scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning. Governor Sebelius will tour the area tomorrow. Rep. Moran, Sen. Tiahart and Sen. Roberts were all there today.

The Greensburg tornado is being compared to the May 25, 1955 tornado that hit Udall, Kansas and killed 87 while destroying the town, much as this one destroyed Greensburg. The death toll in Udall amounted to about 20% of the population - about half the families lost one or more members. Fortunately, Greensburg had 30 minutes to prepare whereas Udall had no warning. That warning makes all the difference in the death toll. The Udall tornado inspired some changes in how people are warned of impending weather.

I've heard conflicting reports all day long of the population in Greensburg. So, I looked up the census data. In 2000, the population was 1,574, with 887 housing units. Of course, that doesn't tell us the current population, but I've heard everything from 1400 to 1800.

Today 11 counties in Kansas have had tornadoes, including some of the same areas that were affected last night. Storms are continuing as I write this.

Greensburg Kansas Tornado Part 4

One of the buildings lost in the Greensburg Kansas tornado was Hunter Drug, which included an old fashioned soda fountain. My friend, Greg Holmes, visited there a few months ago and took some wonderful photos of the soda fountain. He has allowed me to share them here. This one was his last look as he left on that February day.

For more photos, check He will be adding photos to his post Remembering Greensburg. He is an exceptional photographer and I can guarantee you it will be an amazing look at what once was - just 24 hours ago.

Greensburg Kansas Tornado Part 3

I've had more emails from people who found this blog and are wanting more information about the Greensburg Kansas tornado. I will continue to provide updates here for those who are having a hard time getting information from other sources. I'm not sure why the media outlets are not offering info online but I will try to summarize what I'm learning from local/state media for those of you who don't have access to that information. These posts are being written very stream of consciousness as I learn information so forgive any typos and poor grammar.

News outlets are reporting that 95% of Greensburg, Kansas has been destroyed. However, injury and death reports have not risen significantly today. Officials are searching the city grid by grid again, looking for anyone who might be trapped. They have done it twice already, but are doing it again, just to make sure. As you might imagine, the amount of debris is significant and they do not want to miss anyone. Once they complete this, they are pulling back to rest because more storms are on the horizon.

Nine deaths are now confirmed from this tornado, and one more has been reported in Hopewell but that has not been confirmed - the report is that a man was killed while taking shelter with his wife. His wife was injured.

The storms that are currently happening - right now - have NOT produced any tornadoes as of yet. The threat is there, but frankly the threat is often present in Kansas this time of year. It appears the current storm is going to miss Greensburg, although it will come close. There is hail, but nothing more serious than that yet.

Five patients from Greensburg have been taken to Wichita hospitals, others are in Pratt. The people who were in the Greensburg hospital last night were all evacuated and none were injured in the tornado.

I've had questions about the World's Largest Hand Dug well and am just now seeing the first video of it. The water tower there, as well as the shed covering it that you go down has been destroyed. Of course the well is not harmed.

A little girl - I'd guess about 5 - in Greensburg - is being interviewed now saying, "our house is in little pieces." She's part of a family that was interviewed. She said, "My mommy pulled me out of the clouds."

Death Tolls:
1 in Stafford County
8 in Kiowa County (where Greensburg is located)
1 possible in Hopewell

There is a curfew in Greensburg - 8 to 8.

If you're trying to reach family, understand there is no power of any sort. Electricity has been shut down because if you turn it back on you generally have fires to deal with. Officials are keeping it off. ATT is working to get landlines working at the command center, but there are no landlines and no cell towers left. I posted a phone number in the post below you can call about loved ones. Media are saying most people have left Greensburg now.

Also, check the comments section in the following post to find maps Walt created that show the direction and give perspective.

I will provide more updates as I have more.

Greensburg Tornado Continued - Number to call for Loved Ones

Today local news is reporting about 90 percent of the small Kansas town of Greensburg of 1800 people is gone. For those of us who are familiar with it, this is very sad. It is a little piece of Americana and much of what made it distinctive is now in rubble. There was an old fashioned drug store, a small cafe, and a small-town tourist attraction - the world's largest hand dug well - that has been welcoming visitors since the thirties. The well is on the west side of town, so we're assuming it has suffered some damage to the building above ground, but I haven't heard yet.

Seven are reported dead and more than 50 injured thus far, but I anticipate that number may grow. There are lots of even smaller towns around this small town and we don't have reports from all of them yet.

I'm about 80 miles away and the old reporter in me wants to jump in the car and go down there. But, I won't. The last thing rescue workers need is people wandering around the scene. In fact, you probably can't wander around the scene - generally towns are secured at their borders when a tornado hits.

Years ago when the Hesston Tornado hit I was doing news and was there just hours after it hit. The aftermath of a tornado is a horrific thing to see. It's mind-boggling the power of nature, but heart-breaking when you consider how that affects real humans and their lives.

The weather forecast for today is calling for a strong potential for developing storms over a large part of the state, including the area that was hard hit last night. They reported thunderstorms are developing now from Dodge City north to Norton - if you are in that area, please pay attention to the weather.

I have some comments and emails from people saying they found this blog through CNN today, so I thought I'd share with you that if you're looking for local coverage, you can find it at, and I will continue to put occasional updates here as well.

If you're trying to reach family, realize that there is no power, gas, etc.- and very little cell phone signal - in Greensburg and other areas that were hit. The injured were mostly taken to Pratt Hospital about 50 miles away, including the 19 people who were in the Greensburg hospital last night.

If you had loved ones at the Carriage House Nursing Home in Greensburg, there were no injuries reported there but residents were evacuated to Augusta, Rose Hill, and Wichita

If you are hunting for family, register at If you want to call about loved ones, try 620-672-3651.

Tornado in Kansas

Greensburg, Kansas has been hit very hard tonight by a tornado. Greensburg is about 80 miles from where I live and famous for the world's largest hand dug well, 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter, that served as the city's water supply until 1932. You can walk 105 steps down to the bottom and it's worth the trip.

What we hear at this point is that large parts of the town are simply gone, including everything on the west side of the main street. This includes a nice old drug store.

Houses, the hospital, the school, the grocery store, the Coastal Mart, the Pizza Hut - everything is gone. Patients are being taken to Pratt, where they have only 69 beds. They just reported they now have 50 patients from Greensburg - ranging in condition from good to critical.

Greg, Mia and I have watched storm coverage since about 9 p.m. and it's almost 3 a.m. now, but we're only getting to see photos and videos in the last few minutes. I'm sure there will be much more to show. It's fascinating to watch as an observer, but you can't stop thinking about how people's lives have been dramatically changed in the blink of an eye.

In Hutchinson, where I live, we've just been having wind. It has been nice to have fresh air going through the house, but you hate the reason for it.

I took this photo in my downstairs sunporch of the curtain blowing in the breeze.

Unfortunately, they say conditions are right for more severe weather tomorrow, including a possible tornado.