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Kan. tornado leaves 22 miles of devastation

GREENSBURG, Kan. (BP)–Officials say about 95 percent of Greensburg, Kan., was destroyed and at least 8 people were killed by a tornado with a track spanning 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long May 4.

Terry Henderson, national director for disaster relief with the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press that the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists had set up a feeding unit at a shelter in nearby Haviland to assist in the disaster relief response. Southern Baptist workers, meanwhile, were assessing other needs.

All of the churches in the town were destroyed — though none were Southern Baptist -– and every business on Main Street was demolished. Hardly any home in the central Kansas town of 1,500 residents was left untouched by the widespread disaster.

The landscape of Greensburg was characterized by mounds of debris as much as 30 feet tall, the Associated Press reported, after the F5 tornado struck with winds of 205 mph. The Greensburg tornado, which was part of a storm front that spawned tornadoes in parts of Illinois, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Nebraska, rivaled the one that struck Oklahoma City in 1999, killing 36 people.

In Topeka, floods from the same storm system were causing the evacuation of 1,000 residents, Henderson told BP, and NAMB was making plans to activate two out-of-state disaster relief kitchens to assist victims there at the request of the Kansas-Nebraska convention.

Moving at an average speed of 20 mph, officials estimate the tornado wiped out Greensburg in 15 to 20 minutes Friday night.

Debris was being cleared from roads in Greensburg as residents were allowed back to their homes to sift through rubble, and mobile homes and travel trailers were being brought in from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

“This town will be back. I have no doubt of that,” Dick Hainje, regional administrator for FEMA, told The Wichita Eagle.

President Bush declared parts of Kansas a disaster area and asked for prayers.

“It’s going to take a long time for the community to recover,” Bush said of Greensburg. “And so we will help in any way we can. There’s a certain spirit in the Midwest of our country, a pioneer spirit that still exists, and I’m confident this community will be rebuilt.

“To the extent that we can help, we will,” the president added. “The most important thing now, though, is for our citizens to ask for the good Lord to comfort those who hurt.”

School superintendent Darin Headrick said the last three weeks of school in Greensburg have been canceled for the district’s 300 students, but he was optimistic that classes would resume in August even if they are held in other communities or in mobile classrooms.

“Our teachers will have jobs. Our kids will have classrooms to attend,” Headrick told The Eagle. “This is going to be a huge hurdle for people to overcome, but it will also be a huge opportunity.”

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius visited a shelter in Haviland on Sunday to talk with survivors, the newspaper reported, and she encountered Dennis McKinney, minority leader in the state House of Representatives, who had lost his home to the tornado.

“Let me just tell you that I know Kansans are resilient,” Sebelius said, adding that residents there are accustomed to having their lives disrupted by weather.

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