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Lives Torn Apart

Story ID:3978
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Greensburg Kansas USA
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Authorís Note: I recently attended a convention in Wichita, Kansas where I had the privilege of hearing a speaker who left her audience wide-eyed and wiping away tears as she showed pictures and spoke of a night etched in her memory forever. I would like to share with you some of what I heard.

Lives Torn Apart

Ann worked at the Greensburg, Kansas courthouse, and on a spring Friday, she looked forward to going home to spend a relaxing evening with her husband. Relaxation ended up being put on hold for a long, long time for her and all the inhabitants of this small farming community in the southwest part of Kansas. In May of 2007, an EF-5 tornado literally wiped the town of Greensburg off the map. The huge storm tore apart the lives of nearly 1,500 people that night.

Annís 1912 house had been totally renovated with love and hard work over a long period of time. The house and gardens were picture pretty. In one evening, her home and all its contents were destroyed by the violent twister that built up strength as it approached Greensburg. When the sirens blew, Ann and her husband fled to the basement. Kansans heed those warning blasts. Many times they cower in the basement levels, praying the storm will pass on by. And usually it does pass on, but not this time. Ann said something told her they needed to take shelter in the center of the basement, so she convinced her husband to do so. When the storm had done its damage and moved on, they were alive in the middle of the basement. On either side of them lay huge posts filled with concrete. A few steps to left or right, and they would have been killed. When they climbed out of the debris and looked around, there were no words that could describe what they felt.

Their home was gone, their neighborsí homes had tumbled down into a pile of what looked like the childís gameóPick-Up-Stix. The downtown area had been leveled. Businesses were destroyed along with the hospital, schools, and churches. The tornado stripped trees of leaves, branches and even bark in some cases. It looked, Ann said, like one of those movies that show the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

Emergency vehicles sped toward Greensburg, along with groups of people from nearby towns, all willing to give aid in any way possible. The governor called out the National Guard. Help arrived, but all they could do at first was look for survivors, some of whom walked around stunned and unbelieving, even though every building lay in shambles. Eleven lives were lost that night. Eleven people who never saw the light of day again, but it should have been many more they were told later. Case after case of survivors appeared to be miracles.

A full year has elapsed, and Greensburg is rebuilding. School started on time in makeshift quarters. FEMA trailers line some of the streets along with modular houses that could be brought in and put up in a hurry. Not everyone decided to stay and start over again. And no one could fault them. Some were too old to begin all over, others just plain didnít have the heart, and still others feared staying there in case the violent weather returned.

Enough people stayed to bring Greensburg back to life. And they have chosen to make Greensburg a Ďgreení town, using every energy saving method we all read about in magazines and newspapers every day. Teams of volunteers from churches and schools and other groups come to Greensburg regularly to aid in bringing the town to a habitable community once again. What took moments to destroy will take years to renew. But with each new building that goes up, Ann and her neighbors take heart. The generosity of thousands of people across the state and farther have brought them monetary gifts, teams of workers, and a lift to their hearts and souls.

Ann never lost her faith. She says she saw the hand of God in so many places during and after the storm. For surely, it was He who had told her to move to the middle of the basement, and she feels His love and support even now.

To view pictures of the devastation caused by the tornado go to the following website: