Watch CBSN Live

Tragedy To Triumph: Greensburg Rising

May 4, 2007. 9:45 p.m. A massive tornado sets down in the tiny town of Greensburg, Kan., population 1,500, virtually wiping it off the map.

Eleven people are killed and more than 50 injured.

Ninety-five percent of Greensburg is leveled. Entire buildings are reduced to rubble, including two schools, two churches and a hospital. Eighty-five percent of the town's residents are left homeless.

It is an F-5 twister, the worst kind there is -- but it winds up bringing out the best in the townsfolk, who won't let the obliteration suppress their determination and spirit.

Trending News

Now, those ordinary people are doing something quite extraordinary.

Courageous residents are rebuilding, and in a new way. Greensburg is on a crusade to go green, and build the most environmentally-friendly town in the nation.

All next week, The Early Show will be there to help with the reconstruction. We'll chronicle it in our series, "Tragedy To Triumph: Greensburg Rising."

Locals will never forget the night the giant funnel descended on their town.

"It happened so fast," one says, "we just held onto each for dear life. We wasn't going to lose one of us."

When the sounds of howling winds, snapping wood and exploding gas lines died down, the only thing remaining was a scene of utter devastation. It looked like a war zone.

Tornadoes are nothign new to Greensburg. Eight have hit since 1993 -- but none like last May's.

Early Show anchors, staffers and volunteers will head to Greensburg, in the nation's heartland, to roll up their sleeves and help residents build an eco-friendly playground.

The town's residents are celebrating their progress with groundbreaking ceremonies for a new church, a business complex, and a ribbon-cutting for the water tower and arts center. The festivities will include a visit from President Bush, who'll be the commencement speaker at Greensburg High School's May 4 graduation ceremony.

Our special series, "Tragedy to Triumph: Greensburg Rising" will tell the stories of the town, from homeowners to local business owners to the first responders to the high school basketball team that won the state championship this year for the first time in 30 years.

In addition to the playground, eco-friendly donations will be gathered on our plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, beginning Saturday, April 26.

We'll be working alongside a team from Planet Green, which launches on June 4, and with Pilgrim Television and Films. The 13-part Planet Green series "Greensburg" premieres Sunday, June 15. The series is co-produced by Planet Green, Pilgrim, and Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way. Planet Green is Discovery Communications' global, cross-company initiative with a commitment to document, preserve and celebrate the planet, including the 24-hour television network in more than 50 million homes.

To make donations from wherever you are, click here or here.

On Saturday, volunteers in our plaza helped load the first of many trucks that will head for Greensburg -- this one with toys donated by our neighbor on the plaza, FAO Schwarz, whose CEO, Ed Schmults, is a "green" devotee. Among the volunteers, members of Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit "working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities."

To see the sendoff,


Companies donating their time and materials to our efforts include:

BNIM Architects
KomPan Playground Equipment (
John Deere BTI Dealership
John Deere Landscapes
Hastco Construction
Grass Roots NLS
White Lawn & Landscape
PG Playground
Pueblo Concrete
Bruce Davis Concrete
Henry Dick Digging
Wichita Concrete & Pipe
Bob & Ruth Ann Wedel
Greenleaf Ranch
Heft Concrete
Kansas State Landscape Architecture Dept.
Greensburg Volunteers

View CBS News In