tampabay.com

Kansas town searches ruins

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 7, 2007


GREENSBURG, Kan. - Rescue workers on Sunday searched for anyone still buried in the heaps of splintered wreckage left after a massive tornado obliterated most of this south-central Kansas town.

Waves of thunderstorms rippled across the Plains states on Sunday, drenching rubble that the Friday night tornado scattered across Greensburg and threatening tornadoes elsewhere.

At least 10 people were known dead from weekend storms - eight in the Greensburg area and two others elsewhere in Kansas - one Friday night and another in violent weather late Saturday, state officials said.

Amid the destruction, rescue workers and officials held out hope that the death toll wouldn't rise and that they can rebuild their town, from replacing the destroyed churches down to the town's fire engines.

Search teams used trained dogs to sniff for bodies and used their hands and heavy equipment to clear away the rubble, but officials did not know how many people might still be missing.

National Guard engineers were assigned to help with the search. "Some of the rubble is just so deep, " said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general and its director of emergency management.

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 last tornado that strong killed 36 people in Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999.

Tree trunks stood bare in Greensburg, stripped of most of their branches. All the churches were destroyed. Every business on main street was demolished. The town's fire engines were crushed. The massive concrete silos of a grain elevator towered over the flattened expanse of what was left of the town.

Greensburg Administrator Steve Hewitt, who lost his home, estimated 95 percent of the town of 1, 500 was destroyed.

Greensburg remained off limits to residents Sunday, but officials said they would be allowed to return this morning to recover what they could.

President Bush declared parts of Kansas a disaster area, freeing up federal money to aid in recovery.

Four soldiers and a reserve police officer were arrested Sunday on suspicion of looting cigarettes and alcohol from a store in the town, state officials said.

The soldiers from Fort Riley Army base and reserve police officer had come to assist on their own and were not part of any official detachment, officials said.