Special Reports

May 22, 2007

Tornado survivors take shelter where they can

Karen Gibson boiled three packages of spaghetti noodles, browned two pounds of ground beef, simmered three jars of pasta sauce, tossed a salad the size of a basketball and baked up four boxes of garlic bread to feed her growing household on a recent Thursday night.

Karen Gibson boiled three packages of spaghetti noodles, browned two pounds of ground beef, simmered three jars of pasta sauce, tossed a salad the size of a basketball and baked up four boxes of garlic bread to feed her growing household on a recent Thursday night.

She fed 13 people.

The Gibson household in Haviland is a little like a scene from "The Brady Bunch" these days, except there are two sets of parents.

When a tornado decimated Greensburg on May 4, Karen and Bill Gibson drove 10 miles west to Greensburg and searched frantically for their friends Mike and Tamera Kaltenbach. Bill and Mike work together at Greensburg Oilfield Services.

Their rental home destroyed, the Kaltenbachs stayed that first night with a teacher Tamera knows.

"We tried to find them Friday night till 4 a.m." Saturday, Karen Gibson said. "I was worried sick. Mike finally called Saturday afternoon from the shelter at the (Haviland High School) gym. I said 'Come on, you're going home with us.' "

Since then, the two families have shared the Gibsons' three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

This is their third week together.

Another friend of the couple's, a truck driver who called Greensburg home when he wasn't on the road, also is bunking there as needed.

The phones ring constantly. In addition to taking in the Kaltenbachs, the Gibsons also temporarily took over the phones for Greensburg Oilfield.

On a recent weekday night, three televisions were on, one for video games. Clothes of various sizes hung on lines out in the yard. A barrel filled with towels sat on the front porch.

Karen Gibson says she won't lie.

Living with another family is difficult sometimes.

"It's two different families with two different sets of rules," she says.

She is a creature of habit, she says. She does things in a particular order. She likes order.

Her home has been a little less orderly since the tornado.

Five people usually live there: parents Bill and Karen, 20-year-old T.J., 18-year-old Tina Davis, whom the family considers an adopted daughter; and 11-year-old Jessica. Theirs is a blended family.

Mike and Tamera brought with them 9-year-old Dylan and 10-year-old Garrett. They're good kids, which definitely helps, Karen says.

"But it's not easy for any of us," she adds.

Not much privacy

A lot of people are living in similar circumstances -- bunked up with relatives or friends -- and privacy likely is a huge issue for families sharing a home, even temporarily, said Ron Matson, chairman and associate professor of sociology at Wichita State University.

"Privacy is such a huge value in our culture," he said. "In other cultures, you see multiple groups living together. But in our culture, privacy is paramount."

Scheduling must be a nightmare, he said.

Karen said they stagger showers in the mornings.

A family in the Kaltenbachs' situation might be lost about how to repay such a gesture, Matson said.

"It would be nice for the family who is the guest family to know if there's a way at some point in time or even while they're staying there to benefit the host family," Matson said. "If somebody really lays themselves out for you, how do you pay them back?"

Starting over again

Mike and Tamera moved to Greensburg in September from Oakley.

Now they are starting over again.

Their plan is to move into a rental house in Haviland that will become available June 1. The Gibsons' older daughter, Kyirsten Amerine, is buying a home in Pratt with her husband, making the rental available.

"Once Greensburg is rebuilt, we're going back," Tamera said while having lunch with the Gibsons on May 11 at RJ's Cafe on Haviland's Main Street.

But about a week later, the couple says they aren't sure what their plans are. A lot depends on whether Greensburg Oilfield, which has set up shop in Pratt, rebuilds in Greensburg or opts for another location.

They definitely would like to remain in Greensburg, they say.

Haviland has become the temporary home to several families such as the Kaltenbachs.

"Haviland has been appreciated by everyone through this," Tamera said.

Karen said that what little housing was available in Haviland -- apartments, rental houses and homes for sale -- isn't anymore.

Differing schedules

"OK, folks, I need some help in here," Karen calls out from the kitchen Thursday night.

The side-by-side refrigerator and freezer are packed with food. The Kaltenbachs help out the household by contributing the emergency food vouchers they have received.

They try to eat dinner together to save time and effort, but it doesn't always work out because their schedules differ.

Mike and Tamera have their own room for privacy, as do Bill and Karen.

Dylan says he "sleeps anywhere." Garrett usually sleeps on the floor or on a sofa in the living room.

"It's kind of been rough -- but not really," Jessica said. "Sometimes it's hard to sleep because everyone is in and out and in and out."

She and the boys argue sometimes, just like they might on the playground.

Something normal

After dinner and dessert -- vanilla, caramel and chocolate Drumstick ice cream treats -- the two families get ready for Jessica's school program.

The men change clothes and clean up. Karen urges Jessica to choose another dress. The one she's picked out is more of a winter dress.

Sighing, Jessica changes into a blue floral sundress.

The families pile into several vehicles -- the street out front looks like a used car lot -- and head to the auditorium at the high school.

Jessica breaks down in tears when she realizes that she's late and that her classmates already are onstage singing. She was told the wrong time, she tells her family.

After the program, which includes little ones graduating from kindergarten, the families split up for a bit. The Gibsons head back home, and the Kaltenbachs head to Pratt for errands.

In the chaos of it all, Karen sticks to one habit: She sits down in the recliner and watches "Grey's Anatomy."

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