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Greensburg moves into recovery mode

Many residents pledge to rebuild in community


Tornado-ravaged Greensburg officially moved from response to recovery mode Wednesday on a day that saw President Bush come to the rural town to offer his support and to promise that "there's brighter days ahead."

After days of search and rescue efforts, officials said they believe everyone in the town of about 1,600 people has been accounted for after a tornado leveled the community Friday night. The EF5 tornado, the strongest on the enhanced Fujita scale, had winds estimated at more than 200 miles per hour. Nine people were killed in the town and two others died elsewhere in the state from the same storm system.

Officials have begun the task of cleaning up mountains of debris from the storm. Meantime, hundreds of residents in Kiowa County have already applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA trailers, originally destined for Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast, were being sent to Greensburg to house displaced residents. Utility service, however, has not been restored to the town.

Many residents posted signs indicating that they planned to stay and rebuild.

"Future home of the Dixson family," said one handwritten sign outside what was left of one home. "We're still blessed."

On the driveway in front of the sign, big letters spelled out the message, "It's still home."

Bush vowed to work with state and local officials to "get whatever help is appropriate here."

He said the purpose of his visit was "to lift people's spirits as best as I possibly can and to hopefully touch somebody's soul by representing our country, and to let people know that while there was a dark day in the past, there's brighter days ahead."

Volunteers were ready to help.

Members of the Kansas chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster met a day earlier to coordinate a response.

"We talked about some of the issues and getting resources where they're needed," said Dee Smith, chairman of KSVOAD. "We had a good 50 people at the meeting, a lot of the VOAD member agencies, a lot of the local churches and a lot of regional groups."

Smith said the local ministerial alliance and the faith-based community will form an unmet needs committee to help the community recover from the tornado which destroyed 95 percent of the rural town. The group agreed to meet again next week.

Adventist Community Services and The Salvation Army, both KSVOAD members, were setting up a warehouse to manage donations coming into the area. The Salvation Army was also providing meals to rescue workers and emergency responders and residents.

Responders said they were concerned about the economic impact on both the business community and on the town's 1,600 residents as they work with insurance companies to rebuild or repair their homes. All of the businesses in the downtown area were wiped out by the twister.

"I think the economic impact it's going to have on the entire town is really overwhelming since so much of the town is gone," Smith said. "They've lost the infrastructure. It's hard for the city when all the city workers have lost their homes, too."

National disaster response agencies have sent emergency funding as well as assessment teams to support local clergy and the community. Among those responding were the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), Church World Service, Mennonite Disaster Service and Week of Compassion.

Responding organizations encouraged monetary donations to help the recovery process. They also urged people not to show up to help as an unaffiliated volunteer.

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