In mayor's house, hope amid the ruin

Volunteers, family begin process of cleaning up in Greensburg.

BY LAURA HALLEMAN | GREENSBURG, Kan. | May 14, 2007


Shana Pittenger organizes photographs salvaged from the rubble of home owned by her parents.
Credit: Laura Halleman

Mayor Lonnie Lonnie McCollum's home after tornado destroyed nearly the entire town of Greensburg.
Credit: Laura Halleman

From the outside, Greensburg Mayor Lonnie McCollum's two-story home stands completely exposed, with the front walls and roof blown out from the tornado that destroyed most of his town. Inside the home, however, cautious optimism was taking shape.

In one corner of a room, the McCollum's daughter, Shana Pittenger, was meticulously organizing photographs salvaged from the rubble. Upstairs, two volunteers were clearing a path through the debris to search for items there.

The volunteers drove from Minnesota to help the town of tornado-ravaged town of Greensburg.

The mayor's wife Terri couldn't have been more pleased.

"I'm just amazed at the way people are coming from all over to our town to help," she said, her voice quivering as she clutched a picture frame in her hand. "I don't think I could go through all of our things myself."

She recalled the night of May 4 when the tornado, with winds estimated at more than 200 miles per hour, leveled the town where she was born and raised.

When the tornado sirens sounded, the couple immediately went to the basement. They sat helpless and listened as the windows blew out and debris began hitting the house. After about 10 minutes, Terri McCollum said, they began to make their way up the steps but the wind picked up again and they returned to the basement.

"I believe it could have been a smaller, sister tornado coming behind the first one that hit," she said.

When they were finally able to leave the basement, they made their way outside and immediately heard screams coming from the home next door where a family of four lived.

With the family trapped inside a closet in their basement, which had begun to collapse, Lonnie McCollum dug through the rubble in the dark until he was able to reach them and get them out.

At daybreak, the extent of the tornado's destruction became apparent.

"I have lived here my whole life and have never seen anything like this," said Terri McCollum, shaking her head.

As she stood among shards of wood and glass, she pointed to an oil lamp that was sitting atop a fireplace mantle in her home.

"This isn't just any oil lamp. This was my mom and dad's wedding gift and means so much to me," she said, tracing her hand along its outside.

She set the oil lamp back down with a smile. Near where a wall used to stand, sat the oil lamp, without a scratch on it.


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