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Hannah Coats and her father try to collect some of their belongings from their home in Greensburg, Kan., on Saturday after a tornado devastated the town.
AP photo by Travis Morisse
Hannah Coats and her father try to collect some of their belongings from their home in Greensburg, Kan., on Saturday after a tornado devastated the town.

At least 8 dead after Kansas tornado
Rescuers continue to search wreckage for any survivors

By Roxana Hegeman
Associated Press Writer

GREENSBURG, Kan. — Rescuers raced Saturday through the wreckage from a giant tornado that killed at least eight people and left little standing in this Southwest Kansas town beyond the local pub.

City Administrator Steve Hewitt estimated 95 percent of the town of 1,400 was destroyed and predicted rescue efforts could take days as survivors could be trapped in basements and under rubble.

Among the only structures that survived was the Bar H Tavern, the town’s only bar. It was briefly converted into a morgue.

Survivors of the storm, which was blamed for a ninth death in a nearby county, picked over the remnants of their homes and possessions, still dazed by the twister’s strength and scope.

Jackie Robertson and her family spent Saturday afternoon collecting wedding photos, a wallet and other belongings from the debris that had been her home.

Robertson, her husband and a friend spent Friday night in a cellar when the violent weather struck the region.

“My heart just aches for everyone,” she said. “It is so surreal. This is where I live.”

The town, previously best known as the home of the world’s largest hand-dug well — 32 feet in diameter, 109 feet deep — was a nightmare of splintered homes and smashed vehicles, the air redolent with the smell of sap from trees stripped of bark.

“We want everybody to know, and I plead to the American people, this is a huge catastrophe that has happened to our small town,” Hewitt said during a news conference. “My downtown is gone. My home is gone. My staff’s homes are gone. And we’ve got to find a way to come to work every day and get this thing back on its feet. It’s going to be tough.”

Residents said they heard the tornado warning sirens — a common feature of towns in “Tornado Alley” — about 20 minutes before the storm hit.

National Weather Service meteorologist Larry Ruthi said the path of damage was 1.4 miles wide, estimating it would be classified a “upper F-4 or an F-5” tornado, the strongest possible.

Jose Peraza said he was driving his oil rig into town when he heard the siren and driving hail started pounding the area. He pulled over and hid with several other people in a convenience store freezer.

He said the storm ripped the side off the freezer, and when he came out he found the twister had thrown his truck — weighed down by 40,000 pounds of oil — “like nothing.”

The dead included eight in Kiowa County, where Greensburg is located, and one in nearby Stafford County, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

Hewitt said there were fears that the death toll could rise.

“We continue to find folks and this will go on for a good couple days — the rescue itself,” Hewitt said. “I mean, the debris is just unbelievable. Even if you are in a basement, I mean your home is collapsed, and we’ve got to find a way to get to you.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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