Paramedic Annette Gasten and her German shepherd, Greta, had a grim weekend searching amid the piles of wreckage left by one of the strongest tornadoes to rake across the Plains.
Every business on Greensburg’s main street was demolished and officials estimate as much as 95 percent of the town was destroyed. Tree trunks stood bare, stripped of most of their branches. All the churches were destroyed.
At least eight people in this community of 1,500 were dead, putting the state’s total death toll at 10. No one was found Sunday in the debris.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday evening that the state’s response will likely be hampered because much of the equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies – including tents, trucks and semitrailers – is now in Iraq.
“Not having the National Guard equipment, which used to be positioned in various parts of the state, to bring in immediately is really going to handicap this effort to rebuild,” said Sebelius.
Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the adjutant general’s office, which manages state resources during emergencies, acknowledged the strain.
“We are never at 100 percent because we are allocated a certain amount from the National Guard Bureau. With the war, we are much shorter than we would be. We have about 40 percent of what is allocated,” Watson said.
She said the state has a shortage of heavy equipment transport trailers, pallet-sized loading systems, Humvees, dump trucks and other large equipment that would be help move massive amount of debris.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was bringing in travel trailers to house some of the town’s residents. There was no indication when people would be able to move into the trailers because the area was choked with debris and the town had no clean water.
President Bush declared parts of Kansas a disaster area, freeing up federal money to aid in recovery. “There’s a certain spirit in the Midwest of our country, a pioneer spirit that still exists, and I’m confident this community will be rebuilt,” Bush said.
Residents were to be allowed back to their homes today, giving rescuers a better idea of whether any missing residents might be buried under rubble.
Since the tornado hit Friday night, emergency responders have had little indication of how many people in this south-central Kansas town of 1,500 may be safely staying with friends or relatives, rather than in shelters.
Only residents will be allowed back into town. Law enforcement officials will be checking identification and compiling a list of people whose whereabouts still haven’t been determined. Residents must leave by 6 p.m.
Fresh search and rescue dogs will be brought in Monday from Missouri as the hunt for possible survivors and bodies continues across a landscape dotted with mounds of debris, some as deep as 30 feet.
The National Weather Service classified the Friday night tornado as an F-5, the highest category on its scale. The weather service said it had wind estimated at 205 mph, and carved a track 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long.
The twister is the first classified as an F-5 since May 3, 1999, when a tornado killed 36 people in Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999. It is the first F-5 since the weather service revised its scale this year, in an effort to more comprehensively gauge tornadoes’ damage potential, with less emphasis on wind speed.
The Greensburg twister late Friday was part of a storm front that also spawned tornadoes in parts of Illinois, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Nebraska, though most damage elsewhere was minimal, officials said.
In western Oklahoma, at least eight homes were destroyed, several more were damaged and one person was injured. A woman was trapped when her mobile home was blown off its foundation in Seminole in Seminole County but she was rescued and was shaken but not hurt, said sheriff’s dispatcher Terry Thomason.