On Friday, May 4, 2007 at 9:45pm, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was hit straight on by an EF-5 tornado, destroying over 95% of the town. More than 1,200 citizens were suddenly without homes, belongings, schools, churches and nearly all local business, which meant most were also without employment. Twelve residents of Greensburg and surrounding communities lost their lives.
When The Bubel/Aiken Foundation learned of the tragedy, they contacted the Beta Alpha chapter "KC Voices Making A Difference" and asked how they could help. Within days, 100 blankets and more than 200 t-shirts were on their way to a Jen Layne, the chapter contact, who distributed them to Greensburg residents.
The items were handed out to citizens during the city’s first church service since the storm, where more than 1,000 huddled under a makeshift tent and reconnected with neighbors and friends. They were also distributed at high school graduation where everything for the 25 seniors – caps, gowns, diplomas, class rings, and letter jackets, were donated to replace those that were lost. Each graduate received a TBAF blanket that day for which they were very grateful. It was quite a day for them, as their graduation day should be.
Shirts and blankets were also given out during a youth group meeting – all the young teens are members of destroyed Greensburg churches, who, even though they are now living in different communities and attending different churches and schools, come back together weekly for fellowship and strength. Their youth leader told the difficult story of how their newly remodeled Teen Center had been completely destroyed. Like so many others in town they want to rebuild, but they do not know if and when they will find the resources.
It was at that meeting that 15-year-old Payton told the story of how he and his younger sister, who did not have a basement in their home, were told by their mother to huddle around and hold onto the bathroom commode when the tornado hit. Usually the bathtub is deemed the safest place—you learn that when you grow up in Kansas—but they did as she said, and when the tornado hit, it took everything including the bathtub. All that was left were the three of them and the commode—all unharmed.
Another family told TBAF volunteers that all that was left of their home was one yellow wall of their mom’s kitchen. They joked that they were going to carry that wall around with them and somehow incorporate it into the new home they were going to build. However, in the end, it was taken with the rest of the debris. That family is now dealing with insurance agents, building contractors, and car dealers and trying not to worry about where they will find jobs. Both were only 8 years from retirement and are now starting all over.
They also found humor. During the first day of digging out, a resident went to check on his neighbors and asked if they were missing a chest freezer because there was an extra one in one of his trees. Another story was told of a bed’s mattress that had been in the basement of a home, which was now hanging over an electrical wire more than 40 feet in the air – the rest of the bed, as well as the rest of the home, was never found. Then there was the sheared-in-half vacuum cleaner that somehow ended up inside a minivan. If they did not laugh, they would cry—there were really no other emotional options.
More than 1,200 people lost everything that night, yet smiles on their faces were still readily available. They are finding strength they did not know they had—they are pulling together and are resolved to rebuild Greensburg better than ever before. They are also very grateful for the groups and individuals who stepped forward with donations, manpower, and support. Because of the generosity shown, including that of The Bubel/Aiken Foundation, the residents of Greensburg are slowly filling their hearts with hope, which will help carry them through the months and years of rebuilding that stretch before them.
To see the beginning of their journey back, click here to see a YouTube video slideshow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKWHKotwN_E. To download for better quality, click here: http://www.yousendit.com/download/WFJWK2VuTWN6NE0wTVE9PQ
The members of the Beta Alpha chapter "KC Voices Making A Difference" wish to add our own thank you to The Bubel/Aiken Foundation for helping the citizens of Greensburg begin their journey back. We feel very blessed to have been asked to be a part of this touching experience.
Special thanks to Jen Layne for coordinating this effort and recapping her experiences for us all to share.