The Lope: Greensburg "After" - Downtown

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Greensburg "After" - Downtown

One hardly needs to explain, "after what?" On the night of May 4, an EF5 tornado, reportedly 1.7 miles wide, turned most structures in the town of about 1400 into shattered remnants of their component materials. Many areas looked as if a Cuisinart had been inverted over them. The photos on this post were taken May 8; Greensburg has had quite a bit of clean-up since.

Cars of residents were marked with their addresses; whether or not there were consequences to people found away from their addresses, I do not know. Regulation was looser today, but the day before, residents were restricted to their own addresses. The previous day, Monday May 7, was the first day residents had been allowed in to collect possessions, but they'd had to evacuate before the day was over due to an ammonia leak in a railroad car.

I was hired by Land Line magazine to gather photos of Greensburg for an article on how the tornado affected truckers who lived there. I was also allowed to gather photos for this blog. Getting into Greensburg was not a given; everyone needed some sort of paperwork or credentials which showed they had a reason to be there. Traffic was backed up on Hwy 54, east of the city, while highway patrol and National Guard officers checked IDs for residents, press, contractors, etc.


The National Guard controlled the city, though I don't know if, technically, martial law was in effect. We were ushered into the press area, which was the two blocks of Main Street on the north side of Hwy 54. The press was confined there, unless accompanied by a National Guard escort to other parts of the city.

The downtown area looked like a huge construction play set after a kid threw a tantrum and trashed it. Bricks were everywhere.

Much of the national media was there; it looked like a sales lot of satellite trucks.

A residential area visible to the west of downtown showed the kind of destruction that came to wooden buildings.

It was drear and overcast that morning; even red refused to be colorful.

One rapidly got used to seeing cars in odd places.

And everyday objects were damaged in odd ways, like these blinds.

I'm still trying to figure out how this happened.

While downtown, we met up with truckers Darrell and Velda Wadel, who live south of Greensburg, out of the tornado's path. They told us of their reactions the night of Friday, May 4th, when they drove into Greensburg after the twister. They had no idea a tornado has passed.

"When you figure that that fury of that was within a mile of us, you know, it's humbling it..makes you very thankful" said Darrell. "I was kinda griping about my broken windows and it seems so small right now you know compared to the extent of the damage that these other people had. I feel bad that I felt sorry for myself for a little bit. We haven't got a convenience store; we haven't got a grocery store. we haven't got a place to buy gas, you know, in the whole town"

"we had no clue that there was a tornado this close"

Darrell described their drive into Greensburg that night: "you know at night when you come up on a small town, there's could see nothing towards town; it was erie"

"We actually got lost...we didn’t know where we were at," said Velma in an interview with Land Line magazine, "Nothing was recognizable. It was unbelievable."

We saw more flags draped over things as the day progressed.

All over town, most street signs had been destroyed. One of the first things emergency workers had done the day after the tornado was to paint the names of streets at intersections.

Traffic signals had been destroyed as well.

This train crossing signal had been at the Union Pacific's crossing of Main Street.

I believe this was a This is a view west, down Ohio Street, which is two blocks north of Hwy 54.

There's a special sadness to a musical instrument that will never play again.

This tattered flag was in what had been an interior room at the Fleener Chapel funeral home

This was on the door of the funeral home. Honestly, except for the courthouse and the grain elevator, I can't think of structure in town that was safe to enter.

This was the newspaper office - the Kiowa County Signal. They'd managed to publish a paper; I think their press is actually in Pratt, about 30 miles away. The headline was "Blown Away."

Irony littered the street.

I believe the "Horror" tag belonged to a video store.

These goats wandered around North Main, trying to eat the scarce bark from downed trees.

Other media people told me the owner of the goats had been around the day before, but could not get a trailer into town to pick them up.

Note that the "horror" plaque has been moved. A guy taping a tornado documentary came along and placed it here for what he thought was a better shot. Of course, for all I know it had been moved a few times previously.

These mangled trucks were just west of downtown.

U.S. Postal Inspector Police dig through the ruin of the post office.

Postal inspector Paul Mezzanotte carries a tub of mail excavated from the ruins of the Greensburg post office.

Most of the people we saw in the area we were confined to were media. There was a press conference coming up.

"We're gonna rebuild; we're gonna have a brand new town here."

Mayor Lonnie McCollom spoke to the press that day, May 8, 2007 -
"We're gonna have a brand new town and...we have one of the state's top tourist attractions and it's legitimately the biggest hand dug well in the world and we have 35,000 people sign our guest register every year...I've had people stop and they want it opened up Sunday and I go down there and open it up for them...we can't let that go. And we have one of the world's premier meteorite sites, the pallisite meteorite that's...very rare in the world and we have that here. And there's a lot of other things."

"This town owes it to our historical roots and what we have here to rebuild and we're gonna rebuild it. It'll'll be nice folks. Every body's gonna wanna live in a brand new town, and that's what we're gonna have."

I was impressed. Unfortunately, between then and now, McCollom has resigned, saying he is not the leader the town needs at this time, and that he wishes to spend more time with his family. Last I heard, Greensburg had not accepted his resignation and considered him on sabbatical.

Later that day, postal workers found and erected a flag pole.

The sun had come out, and red was red again.

Sunlight shown through where there used to be a roof into Fleener Funeral Home.

This overturned truck was actually in better shape than many trucks in town. As medieval towns had cathedrals and centers of the industrial revolution had grand train stations, 20th century agrarian towns built grain elevators. The Farmers Grain and Supply Company grain elevator sustained minimal damage and, due to a lack of trees and buildings after the tornado, became even more of a visual reference when driving about town than it was before.

Although the main structure of the grain elevator was undamaged, the peripheral structures did not fare so well.

I was reminded of aluminum cans.

Eventually we were able to leave our two-block area while accompanied by a National Guardsman. We headed to the part of downtown south of Hwy 54. The state of Greensburg's most noted downtown business, Hunter Drug, is shown in the post Greensburg Before and After, as is Greensburg's main tourist attraction, The Big Well.

These are businesses on the west side of Main, south of Hwy 54.

The interior of a local beauty shop was laid open.

The side of this bank tilted in an an odd angle; at first glance it almost has a mid-century modern feel.

Heart to Heart International Inc., a humanitarian organization, had a mobile medical van set up on Florida Street, just off of South Main.

On the east side of Main, our National Guard escort photographs emergency workers in front of the ruins of the Twilight Theater. I believe they might be from the Dodge City Police Department.

I regret that I never saw the Twilight Theater interior before the tornado. It has quite a history, having been a theater since 1917 when silent films were shown there. You can see a hint of art deco in the front. If you want a little bit of irony, consider that according to their website (which apparently has not been updated since the tornado), the next movie the theater was to show is entitled "Are We Done Yet?"

This building is just to the north of the Twilight Theater.

This had been a restaurant and gift shop. For a long time it was called Peddlers; most recently it was the Main Street Cafe. In both incarnations, it was known for vintage Christmas displays. Read about it here, and weep.

A vintage Santa (made by, I think, the David Hamberger Display Company of New York) is apparently pinned to rubble by a fallen column. I'll always wonder how cool this place looked upstairs; the world already had too few vintage automated Christmas displays.

The Twilight Theater and the Main Street Cafe are two examples of a lesson I did not learn well enough: There are neat things around us, virtually in our own back yards; we should see such things while we can.

Some of these photos were used in an interview CNN conducted with me. See it here.
See also my CNN I-report, here.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a trucker and remember spending the night at the little truckstop on the south side of US 54. I haven't heard anyone say anything about that place. I assume there were trucks there and truckers from out of town. I have heard two stories, one of a lady who pulled into a convenience store and was hurried into the cooler just before the tornado hit. Was that at the truckstop? The other was of a trucker that rode the tornado out from the cab of his truck and was nearly sucked out. I have seen aerial footage and cannot make out exactly where the truckstop was. Any stories or photos would be appreciated as that is what I remember of Greensburg being a trucker. I also remember walking across the street and thinking how wide the streets were in that town.

Sun Jun 03, 07:30:00 PM  
Blogger MACLAN said...

It is really sad that there is more news on Paris Hilton going to jail than there is on this!

Tue Jun 05, 11:00:00 AM  

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