Reporting From A Town Destroyed

CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan arrived in Greensburg, Kansas on Saturday after an F-5 tornado decimated the town.

When you look at the front page of the Sunday paper in these parts of southwestern Kansas, you are likely to see one of a few stunning aerial photgraphs that gives you a perspective on the damage. The twister's swath of destruction is not the width of a football field or even two. The F-5 tornado, with winds of more than 200 miles per hour, was more than a mile wide. That's about as wide as the entire town of Greensburg.

Stand at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 54, and you'll feel it; a sense of total and complete loss. Known as the "yellow brick road" to some, Main Street was the commercial heart and soul of this tiny town. The fairytale reference is now nightmarish because the storm has taken at least 9 lives. Rescue and recovery efforts continue, but with time the word 'rescue' diminishes as the recovery looms.

A two-story furniture store was reduced to a couple of feet of rubble. The donut shop that finished remodeling on Friday – the day of the tornado – is flattened. The façade of the brick building belonging to the masons is still standing, but the roof, guts and back have been ripped out of it.

If the editor of the weekly paper didn't tell me which structure with the gold bricks to look at, I wouldn't have known he was talking about the post office.

Keep walking down the street and an old fashioned drugstore has been mixed up like the soda which an octogenarian soda jerk made there for more than 55 years.

There are 300 kids who don't have an elementary, a junior high or high school to go to on Monday. Most of the facilities have been reduced to piles the height of a second grader.

There were approximately 40 people moved to the basement of the hospital in town before the storm hit. If it hadn't been for a 20-minute warning, they might not have survived. The ambulance bay is now a pile of toppled over cinder blocks. The facility is beyond critical condition.

Thundershowers have rolled through with drenching rains and quarter-sized hail yesterday and today making it difficult for everyone. The transportation workers slow their clearing of debris from the roadways, the searchers take cover, the media cram into their satellite trucks, as the inside of roofless homes continue to get drenched and ruined.

The superintendent of schools is optimistic, seeing opportunity amidst the chaos. The question now is whether the other residents of this town will see it the same way.
  • James Klatell

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