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Friends, relatives pitch in to clean up Greensburg

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 12, 2007, at 10:01 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at 5:15 p.m.

— Max Vahsholtz did Saturday what he has done every time a tornado has hit near his hometown of Pratt.

He drove his skid steer loader onto his truck and hauled it out to where it can be of most help. On Saturday, that was Greensburg.

Vahsholtz spent the day helping a friend of a friend haul debris from his property.

"If it's close and people need help, I go help them," he said. "You about got to come over here, being just 30 miles away, if you got a conscience."

Vahsholtz was one of many who drove to Greensburg on Saturday to help family members and friends sort through the rubble and start clearing debris.

According to AmeriCorps volunteer Hillary Holstein, more than 500 people signed in at the volunteer tent. Many were relatives of residents or friends of friends and knew where to go; others were with church groups or were led in groups to people in need.

By the end of the day, several lots had been cleared of debris. Front-end loaders dove into piles of wood shards, broken cinderblocks and strewn belongings to clear people's properties. Already the town is starting to see signs of significant progress, although much work remains.

Insurers continue to estimate huge losses. Des Moines-based EMC Insurance Cos. said Friday that it expects to see losses of up to $21 million.

Madison-based American Family Insurance Co. said Thursday that it will pay out about $6 million in claims.

Paul and Red Engelken, brothers of Greensburg resident Rick Engelken, arrived Saturday morning to help the family clear their property. On the way, the brothers stopped in Emporia and had trouble with their transmission.

"The car wasn't going anywhere and this woman loaned us her truck for three days so we could still help," Paul Engelken said.

They spent Saturday filling the truck with salvageable belongings to take into storage.

Several streets away, Wichitan Patty Beck stood in awe of how much progress her family and friends had made on her parents' demolished house.

"They've done so much today," she said, smiling.

Nearly 15 people came from Salina to sort debris into piles of metal, wood and limestone. Beck's sister-in-law, Judy Beck, said most people in Greensburg got to work quickly.

"A lot of us have a can-do attitude," Judy Beck said. "Do it yourself and get it done."

Meanwhile, Chris Kliewer, president of the Wichita chapter of the American Institute of Architects, sent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius a letter saying AIA would support efforts to rebuild the southwest Kansas town by sharing the latest trends in technology and architecture.

Contributing: Associated Press
Barbara J. Isenberg can be reached at 316-268-6574 or bisenberg@wichitaeagle.com

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