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Greensburg residents begin to sort out the rubble

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 7, 2007, at 1:33 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at 5:15 p.m.

Two days after the disaster, hundreds of rescuers and townspeople from Greensburg worked to bring order out of chaos. There was a lot of work, and a lot of chaos.

• • • 

Scenes from Greensburg:

One house is now a pile of lumber, with an "X" spray-painted on the front door, signifying that it has been searched. A shredded mattress is wrapped around a destroyed tree.

In the pile of rubble lies a mini-basketball, with the word "Rebels."

On another street corner, an artificial Christmas tree stands with lights still wrapped around it.

A semi sits split open, cardboard boxes exposed in the bed.

Beside the cab, a collection of food and bedding: a container of Ruby Red grapefruit, a container of raisins, two green pillows. The truck had a "V" spray-painted on it, meaning that rescuers had searched it and found it vacant.

• • • 

If you have faith, you pray and you believe. But what if you aren't a person of faith?

The Rev. Gene McIntosh, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Greensburg, suggests just being together, hugging, holding, hanging on.

"I believe God works through people," he said shortly after returning to his church to survey the damage.

The sanctuary roof had caved in. A few rooms in the southeast part of the church were intact. A picture of Jesus remained on a wall, though a cross atop the church had toppled.

People need to come together now no matter what their beliefs, McIntosh said.

• • • 

A full set of white-and-blue china -- including tea service --stands on display in a storefront on Haviland's main street, in perfect condition, while Greensburg residents' dishes are strewn across their town.

People stop to hug in front of the hardware store, relieved to see one another.

"I'm so glad you're OK" is a familiar refrain as people visit the Salvation Army's makeshift disaster office at Haviland's small brick city hall.

• • • 

People trickle into Haviland Hardware and Convenience Groceries, grabbing snacks. Newspapers with front-page photographs of the tornado are strewn on a round white table.

The owner, Vic Hannan, usually doesn't open on a Sunday. "But people just needed a place to go," he says. To give them something to eat, he heats burritos and cheeseburgers in his microwave.

He asks each customer where they are from, then cracks jokes about how he is running a nonprofit store.

On the walls of his store are fliers: One advertises the Haviland spring cleanup, originally scheduled for April 27-May 6; another advertises a blood drive for May 18.

• • • 

Out front of Haviland Hardware, newly homeless people talk about how much money they've received in assistance and how they'll use it.

Inside, a family eats sandwiches and potato salad and talks about how a neighbor is still looking for 600 head of missing cattle.

• • • 

Dreiling Construction, a contractor based in Garden City, arrives about 11:45 Sunday morning to start rebuilding the first phases of a new telephone system.

Dreiling is a subcontractor to AT&T. It is having cable shipped in from Dallas on an expedited order.

The company has four people on the ground in Greensburg, including Don Dreiling, the owner. They brought a backhoe, two flatbed trucks, 2,000 gallons of fresh water and three big spools of cable.

Don Dreiling says the biggest challenge is getting through the debris to start the work.

• • • 

Three small white-and-black goats interrupt a disaster news conference Sunday morning on the east side of Greensburg, eating leaves off nearby fallen trees. One wears a collar.

The goats drift away -- not to be seen again until late afternoon, when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius holds a press conference.

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