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Tornado-wrecked town looks to future

Rebuilding of Greensburg focus of two town meetings.


Residents and business owners in this farming town are looking to a brighter future with tourist attractions that might even include an area displaying the devastation from the May 4 twister that leveled the community.

The south-central Kansas town, about 110 miles from Wichita, previously boasted that it had the world's largest hand-dug well as well as a 1,000 pound pallasite meteorite, which it said was the largest ever discovered.

"You have to face it," said one resident at a town meeting Tuesday night. "We're a small town but we do things big here. We have the biggest hand-dug well, the biggest meteorite and now the biggest tornado."

The comment was greeted with applause and laughter.

The meeting was the second in two days on the future of Greensburg, which was destroyed by a tornado packing winds estimated at more than 200 miles per hour.

The crowded meeting Tuesday night was attended by residents, business owners, representatives of the Small Business Administration and local and state officials. The focus was on how to rebuild the business area and bring it back better than before.

Many business owners said they planned to remain in town and would rebuild.

Several residents suggested the town become more attractive to tourists with new amenities, such as antique shops and the tornado exhibit. Others said reminders of the tornado, which killed 10 people in the town, might be too painful.

Other suggestions included construction of an assisted-living facility and a YMCA.

Rebuilding was also the subject of Monday night's City Council meeting, its first since the deadly twister leveled the community of about 1,600 people.

Meeting in a trailer, the council worked on adopting ordinances concerning zoning codes and regulations prior to any rebuilding and on salvaging important documents. The council also waived setback and side yard guidelines, which it said would help speed the rebuilding process.

"The waiving of previous setbacks is to allow residents to rebuild on their lots right away," City Administrator Steve Hewitt said. "This does not mean zoning codes will not be abided by. It simply means that people will be able to rebuild a little quicker."

A volunteer group of architects and inspectors from the American Institute of Architects was scheduled to arrive in town next week to help in the redesign of the town, officials said.

The council also approved a car policy for town workers, allowing them to request a vehicle through the city administrator. A majority of city employees had their vehicles destroyed in the tornado and are now living temporarily outside Greensburg.

Several entities, including the state of Kansas, have provided vehicles to town residents and city employees either free or at a cost of $1 per vehicle.

Hewitt noted that there will be no revenue coming in to the town for some time.

"You have to understand the economy and economics of Greensburg are going to change," he said.

Meantime, cleanup continued throughout the town. Electric companies were out in force Monday working to restore power. A curfew remained in effect from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. A temporary hospital was being constructed off Highway 54. Trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were being transported to the town for temporary housing for displaced residents.

As of Tuesday, 5,000 loads of debris roughly 10 percent of the total debris - had been hauled out of town.

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