Two months ago, Greensburg, Kansas, was flattened by a tornado.
“Seems like it was forever ago,” resident Ruth Ann Wedel said.
The town’s 1500 residents have been scattered. A few are still living in town. Most have moved in with friends and relatives in nearby towns. Some are in town daily or weekly struggling with cleanup. Some are gone for good. Several hundred gathered in Greensburg’s Davis Park for a community meal, a speech by our friend Jack Schultz, and left over fireworks that were rained out on July 4th. Residents greeted each other under the tent with, “Great to see you! Now, where are you staying?”
Jeanne and I went to that gathering. We talked to Dea Anne Corns from Greensburg State Bank, Ruth Ann and Bob Wedel of WB’s Whole Foods and Bob’s backhoe and pumping service, and Charlie Jones of Bowtie and Corker Manufacturing. Each of those businesses lost their building and most or all of their equipment. They are literally starting over. Christy Dolan from a FEMA contractor, Denise Unruh from the South Central Community Foundation and James Bond with the faith based organizations also took time to talk with us. They are there to help, but help from the government, organizations and charities still leaves gaps. We are going to introduce you to these small business survivors in a series of stories. We want you to get to know them.
These people came to hear Jack, and hoped for encouragement.
“I’ve never done a talk like this,” Jack said. “Not for a town so completely destroyed.”
Jack may never had talked to a town like this, but he knows about them. He shared the stories of towns that were burned down, flooded out, scrubbed by hurricanes, and leveled by tornadoes. He related stories of towns facing devastating economic losses, factory closures, and business failures. He told how those towns came back and managed to make something better. He delivered a message of terrific opportunity.
“You were handed some huge lemons that early May night,” he said. “The question is whether you are going to let them leave a bitter taste in your mouth, or if you are going to make it into something sweeter.”
Residents gathered around maps, discussing where to rebuild community facilities, how to relocate roads, and how best to rebuild. How to start from scratch.
A high school student asked Jack how long rebuilding is going to take. Jack estimated 5 to 10 years. Imagine how long that would sound to a high schooler, or to a 75 year old.
Two months down. Five or ten years to go.
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