Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greensburg hits way too close to home

May 10, 2007

I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been through Greensburg. I wish I had them to send them there.

The devastation that has changed that small, vibrant, beautiful little town into so much garbage is unbelievable. And, such a tragedy. Mother Nature has once again been so cruel to a place that was so undeserving of such carnage.

I learned of Friday's massive tornado while standing in line at a store Saturday around 1 p.m. A woman was talking on her cell phone about how Greensburg had gotten pounded. Not knowing what had happened, I joked that I hoped the World's Largest Hand Dug Well hadn't been damaged. I felt guilty about that later after I'd seen television footage showing the town -- the town I knew so well -- had been flattened. I was horrified.

Growing up in Liberal, we were all huge fans of the National Baseball Conference semi-pro baseball team the Liberal BeeJays. We went to every game. Come state tournament time and again when we qualified for the national tournament, it meant trips to Wichita. Many, many trips.

Greensburg was about half way in between Liberal and Wichita, a trip of 200-some miles. We didn't stop often in Greensburg, but I always loved it. The houses along U.S. Highway 54 -- still unbelievably closed as I write this -- were so cool. Typical small western Kansas town with old homes, most of them brick, immaculate yards and charming businesses, as well as a big mainstay of any farming community -- the implement dealership. John Deere, of course.

There was a joke about Greensburg in our family. My lead foot granddad, the biggest BeeJay fan of us all, had a problem remembering to slow down from highway speed through Greensburg. He got so many tickets that we said he "owned" the radar there.

Once I became an adult and moved away, I didn't go to anymore BeeJay games. But, living in eastern Kansas meant trips home to Liberal had to pass through Greensburg. Again, because of its location between Wichita and Liberal, I rarely stopped, but continued to marvel at the community. It just had such a wonderful feel.

I do vividly remember one stop there, though. It was while going home for Christmas with my most precious cargo, two young boys, in the family car. As is normal for that time of year in that country, there was a blizzard. White knuckle driving is what I call it. By Greensburg, my nerves were frayed enough that I had to stop -- to have a smoke. I didn't smoke in the car with the family. I was glad to have a great place to stop along U.S. 54 to get out of the traffic and flying snow.

Anyway, I know Greensburg. That's why it has hit so hard and close to home with what's happened there. Every time I see another picture, I just can't believe it. The magnitude of that tornado's power is mind blowing. An F5 tornado with winds over 200 mph is hard to believe. It's easier, now, though, having seen what such force can do to a town, a town I've known for almost 50 years.

Along with the devastation, there have been other marvels of the storm. Thankfully, there were no more fatalities and injuries than there were. I don't know about you, but when I look at those pictures, it's hard for me to believe anyone survived. Not that nine deaths aren't too many. In fact, a classmate of my brother Tim's was killed. Yes, it does touch close to home.

I've been amazed, too, in the attitudes of the people of Greensburg about the tragedy. In typical western Kansas fashion, they're dealing with what Mother Nature has dealt them. Strong willed, they survived the terrible tornado and will likewise survive its aftermath.

What has struck me, too, when I see yet another picture of the devastation is I wish they'd show what the town looked like before Friday. You wouldn't believe it. I know it's hard for most people to imagine anything about Greensburg's past, only what it looks like now. How sad.

What that "before" picture might reveal, too, is another of the oddities from the storm, which destroyed 95 percent of the buildings in the town -- but not the beer joint, which served as a makeshift morgue in the aftermath.

I remember that bar. Never stopped there. Honest. But, it always brought a smile. It had signs that said "Hot Beer and Poor Service" and "Free Beer Tomorrow." I guess humor survives devastation somehow.

It's just one of those oddities of tornados. That's what I've learned through this whole thing. I've always known it, but to see the strangeness along with the devastation in Greensburg again brings it home.

There are other things the tragedy has revealed. Everywhere you look, Kansans are coming together to help their brothers and sisters in Greensburg. That includes right here in Baldwin City. It's not a surprise, not a surprise at all. But, it is heartwarming to see. We all need to do our part. I've volunteered as a member of the Kansas Press Association to go out there and help them get their newspaper out. I don't know if it will come about.

But, regardless, I will be going out there soon. I have to see it for myself. I want to see the area around it, too. I want to see it all.

The other real eye-opener to me through this whole thing is it can happen here. It can happen here in Baldwin City or wherever. We had funnels last week. Thankfully, they didn't touch the ground at all.

Greensburg is -- or was -- a typical western Kansas town full of God fearing, Bible thumping people. They didn't deserve this. No one does.

Pray for the people of Greensburg and pray that it never happens here. But, it obviously can.

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