9 dead after tornado slams rural KS town

Sixty injured after devastating twister hits Greensburg.


At least nine people were killed and 60 others injured Friday night after a powerful tornado slammed the small south-central Kansas town of Greensburg. An emergency official described the situation as "the most significant emergency the state of Kansas has faced in a long, long time."

"There's just not a lot left down there," said incident commander Terry David. "It's a mess."

City Administrator Steve Hewitt said 95 percent of the town was damaged or destroyed. Greensburg is the county seat of Kiowa County and is about 110 miles west of Wichita.

"It's a devastating sight," he said. "How are we going to rebuild? We've got to do this right, and it's going to be a tough road ahead of us."

Hewitt said the town of about 1,600 would need to rally itself for the recovery.

"We've got to come together as one," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but we can do it."

Hewitt said he welcomed the help that has already come to Greensburg but was worried about the future of the town once that help moves on.

Residents were evacuated and were being kept out of the area until debris was removed and the area was deemed safe for their return.

Aerial footage from a local television station showed block after block of the town with severe damage. Homes were reduced to rubble or just had slabs remaining behind. Rescue workers were searching neighborhoods for anyone who might be trapped or injured.

First United Methodist Church of Greensburg and its parsonage suffered heavy damages or were destroyed, according to officials from the Kansas-West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Church pastor Rev. Gene McIntosh and his family were reported safe after riding out the storm in their basement.

The conference issued a special appeal for the tornado recovery as part of the Kansas area disaster fund and encouraged churches to take up a special offering Sunday for the recovery. It noted the fund, which provides assistance to people affected by disasters, "is dangerously low following the severe ice and snow storms in western Kansas in January."

The conference also reported that volunteers would respond to the town as soon as they were allowed into Greensburg to assist with relief efforts. Trailers with water, tools and food were on standby.

Emergency officials expressed concern that more severe weather could affect the region later Saturday, noting that was another reason they were keeping residents out of the town.

One of the deaths was also reported in Stafford County, along with some damages.

The Kiowa County Hospital in Greensburg suffered extensive damage and had to transfer patients to other regional hospitals. The local high school and middle school also were heavily damaged.

The National Weather Service reported that the twister, which struck shortly before 10 p.m. CDT, was about one-half mile wide.

The injured were being treated at Pratt Regional Medical Center about 40 miles away. Some of the injured were transferred to hospitals in Wichita, reports said.

Shortly after the tornado struck, ambulances were dispatched to the town from as far away as 50 miles, according to news reports. National Guard troops were sent to the town.

Power and telephone service were out throughout the community. Officials closed down a stretch of US Highway 54 to allow ambulance and emergency service crews to get to the community.

Buses were sent from Haviland about 15 miles away to pick up survivors and bring them back to emergency shelters set up at Haviland High School and Barclay College. Another shelter was in nearby Macksville.

The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army were on scene to provide shelter, food, water and supplies. The Salvation Army also had pastors available for spiritual care.

The tornado was part of a severe weather system that stretched from South Dakota to northern Texas. The National Weather Service reported numerous tornadoes throughout Kansas. At least three tornadoes touched down in southern Illinois but there were no reports of damage or injuries. Another twister touched down near Arnett, Okla., but caused no injuries and minimal damage.

In Kansas, the storm covered multiple counties and tornado watches and warnings were issued through the early morning hours Saturday.

The same storm system was expected to cause more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes Saturday throughout the Plains.

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