Kansas Responders Cope With Challenges After Deadly Tornado

The Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department -- along with the majority of buildings in the town –- was reduced to masses of twisted rubble.


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GREENSBURG, Kan.-- The powerful twister that leveled this community late Friday night provided unique challenges for first responders.

The F5 tornado destroyed more than 95 percent of the town, and claimed 10 lives.

The Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department -- along with the majority of buildings in the town -- was reduced to masses of twisted rubble. Engines were partially buried by debris.

With communications down, it has been impossible to contact fire officials from Greensburg.

A number of volunteer and career departments responded to the community Friday night to assist with the effort. Even veteran firefighters were stunned by what they found.

"Usually we have a place to take the injured and somewhere to evacuate people. That was not the case in Greensburg. There was no place to tell people to go," said Wichita Deputy Chief Mike Rudd.

The small community hospital was damaged, forcing patients and staff to be evacuated. Injured residents were transported to medical facilities in several other towns, some 60 miles away.

A search team from Wichita uncovered debris at the hospital to free six people from the basement.

"They weren't hurt. They were just buried by rubble," Rudd said. "The crews couldn't hear them..."

Search and rescue teams -- assisted by specially trained dogs -- have been going through the community looking for survivors and victims. With street signs and local landmarks gone, firefighters have been scribbling the names of streets on curbs.

"It's overwhelming, the destruction. One guy looked up and saw a pistol hanging from a tree limb ... It's really sad."

With resources scarce, responders have had to be self sufficient; carrying their own sleeping bags, drinks and radios.

"There's absolutely no cell or telephone service. We brought our 800 mgh portable repeaters," Rudd said, adding that Kansas emergency managers who set up a command post have been operating off 400 mgh system.

The search effort -- a tedious task under any circumstances -- has been made even more challenging by the continuing threatening weather. "We had inch-and-quarter size hail yesterday (Sunday)."

Animal control officers and veterinarians also were in the community trying to round up animals, and treat the injured. "There was no way to contain them. There were no pens..."

Residents were allowed to return to their homes on Monday to search through what remains of their lives.