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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stunned survivors wonder how they'll cope

BY DAN CLOSE
Special to The Eagle

U.S. 54 -- dubbed "the yellow brick road" as it runs through town -- was not paved with gold after the killer tornado devastated Greensburg.

The twister left the roadside littered with cracked red bricks from businesses, crushed and overturned trucks, and shards of sheet metal banging in the breeze.

Everywhere was misery. Before dawn Saturday morning, survivors huddled together, lost and staring, standing in disbelief -- too stunned to comprehend how their lives had been forever altered.

Amy Fleener sat in the parking lot of the Dillons grocery store on U.S. 54, cradling her son, Jaden, under a coarse blanket. Rescue workers offered water and comfort as ambulances whisked victims from the makeshift triage area.

Fleener ruffled Jaden's hair as he tried to sleep. "He was saying all the way over here, 'I hope this is a bad dream. I hope this is a bad dream.' "

But Fleener was grateful that her family, including her husband and son, survived. "We went into the basement and hunkered down under the pool table. We were pretty fortunate. Some of our neighbors are totally gone."

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Alfredo Negreros had been hauling frozen meat in his semi Friday night when the rain, wind and hail hit hard and fast as he was trying to make it through town.

"I felt like a 'wham!' hit the truck. Then a fence hit me, and I heard the sound of breaking glass. My passenger door flew open and the wind was really blowing. I was just hanging on by my seat belt," he said.

Negreros' truck was stranded on U.S. 54, fluids leaking from the wheels and a full load of rapidly defrosting steaks in the back. "I was headed to Tucson by Sunday, but there's no way I'm going to make it now, " said Negreros, who drives for a California trucking company.

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Michele Becker found a dalmatian mix shaking under a fire truck, terrified of the flashing law enforcement lights and the clumps of people straggling down the highway looking for help.

"He is one scared dog. So scared. I finally just had to sit on the ground and wait and coax him out," said Becker, an American Red Cross disaster relief worker from Pratt.

She sat smoothing the lost pet's shiny fur. "He has no tags, no nothing," she said. "I may just have to take him home until I can track down his owner.

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Meanwhile, teenagers wandered the highway, shuffling past blue EMS gloves tossed on the muddy ground, grabbing for a bottle of water to fend off the muggy night, searching for something to do without really knowing where to look.

There was a lot of searching going on in Greensburg last night, and there will be more for weeks to come. Searching for people. For pets. For possessions. For pride. People, believe it or not, are already talking about rebuilding.

"We will see when the sun starts shining if we are still standing where we are," Amy Fleener said. "Life will go on."

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