Ground Zero For The Green Housing Movement

Just about everywhere you look in Greensburg, Kan., somebody is building something or something's just been built. It's been nonstop for two years, ever since a mile-and-a-half wide tornado with 205 mph winds basically wiped this town of 1,500 people off the map, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

Back in May 2007, Jill Eller was hopelessly sifting through the ruins of her house - and her life.

"How do you start?" she asked, crying.

Like many in Greensburg, her family lived in a trailer for two years, willing themselves to stay.

"We felt like we were abandoning ship if we left Greensburg," Eller said.

Last month, Jill and her husband Scott moved into their one-of-a-kind three-bedroom green dream house, which is energy efficient and more tornado resistant.

"It' gets called a lot, the igloo house, the Princess Leia house," Jill Eller said.

"And those are the nice things," Scott Eller said.

With Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) - six inches of Styrofoam sandwiched between plywood panels - their gas bill went from $200 a month to only $30. But, their mortgage went from nearly paid off to $200,000.

"We're in the worst financial position we've been in since we first got married," Jill Eller said. "But we're working it out."

Like the Ellers, it would have been easier for most people to leave. But about 800 refused, no matter how it looked, and no matter how much it cost.

Now, Greensburg is ground zero for the green movement. The area got nearly $100 million from the government to rebuild, including a $50 million school, $25 million hospital and a $3 million city hall - all of them certified LEED Platinum, the most energy efficient you can get - but not inexpensive.

Greensburg has gone from a town that was celebrating its survival on the first anniversary of the storm, to asking serious questions about its future on the second.

"We expect to be bigger, stronger and greener," said City Manager Steve Hewitt.

The question is: What happens when all the aid money dries up? Can going green produce green?

To survive, Hewitt is tirelessly working to capitalize on his town's name by luring green businesses - places that build products for wind, solar and other clean energy companies, which would mean critically needed jobs that have so far not materialized.

"Do you worry that despite everything you've done, all the money that's been spent, the buildings might not be filled?" Glor asked Hewitt.

"I'm scared that someday, you know, if I don't keep working hard every single day and be very diligent that we'd have empty buildings again," Hewitt said. "I don't want empty buildings. I don't want a ghost town."

If anyone embodies the costs here, from the storm and the rebuilding, it's Sarah Schmidt. The tornado took her husband Harold after 53 years of marriage.

"He had five surgeries in 10 days," Schmidt said. "Every 48 hours they would do a surgery on him trying to save him … but it wasn't meant to be."

Left with only Harold's bible - which was wet from the storm and she dried out page by page - and no insurance, she decided to stay. At 76, it meant working two jobs to pay for her new house.

Right or wrong, for Greensburg there's no going back.

"I was meant to stay here for a reason," Jill Eller said. "And I hope I find it, and I hope it helps someone else."
  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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