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Storm Updates  

Tornado was an EF-5; FEMA's help expected

Eagle staff

- As rain fell softly on Sunday, work crews sifted through the rubble looking for more victims, backhoes cleared U.S. 54 and crews spray-painted an orange "V" on vacant houses.

Meanwhile, meteorologists confirmed today what everyone who has seen the damage suspected: the tornado that hit Greensburg on Friday night was the strongest possible type, an EF-5.

On the new "Enhanced Fujita scale," that means the storm had estimated winds of more than 200 mph.

Dan McCarthy of the National Severe Storms Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the storm was at least as strong as the F-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., and parts of Oklahoma City in May 1999. McCarthy said the Greensburg tornado traveled 22 miles and was an awesome mile and a half wide.

As evidence of how powerful the winds were, McCarthy pointed to what he saw in the wreckage of the Greensburg High School, built about 100 years ago. He is the son of a bricklayer and said the brick workmanship in the school building "was as good as I've seen anywhere." And yet the storm tore that formidable structure to pieces.

Help on the way

As scientists assessed what happened Friday night, others were looking to the future.

Politicians spoke on national morning news shows from Greensburg this morning, assuring those whose lives were torn apart that help was on the way.

That help began arriving along with the politicians, the national media and workers intent on starting the first phase of rebuilding.

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

"It's going to take a long time for the community to recover," Bush said Sunday, referring to Greensburg, after attending a morning service at a church in Washington. "And so we'll help in any way we can.

"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.

The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding in Kiowa County.

Bush's post-Katrina director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, will arrive in Greensburg tomorrow.

Dick Hainje, regional administrator for FEMA, said the agency was bringing in travel trailers for some of the town's residents -- trailers that had been ordered for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. But it wasn't clear when people would be able to move in to the trailers; debris was in the way and the town had no clean water.

FEMA said that those who sustained losses in the counties designated for aid can begin applying for assistance tomorrow at www.fema.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). (The TTY line for the speech and hearing impaired is 1-800-462-7585.) Lines are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Sunday.

Local help

The soldiers and police manning the barricades outside of Greensburg will let town residents come in from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to search for belongings, according to Steve Hewitt, the town administrator. Rescuers are worried about injuries, but want to allow residents to save and salvage what they can for one day.

To help make this happen, buses will arrive at the shelters at Mullinville and Haviland every two hours to take residents in.

Hewitt said he has no idea when utilities in Greensburg would come back on line.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services' office in Pratt is taking applications for people who need emergency food stamps.

Two local legislators, Rep. Dennis McKinney and Sen. Ruth Teichman, said the state commissioners for insurance and banking have set goals to quickly establish a one-stop service center in the Greensburg area to process new driver's licenses, and provide insurance services and other assistance. No timeline has been set yet but they hope to do it as quickly as possible.

School stays out

The district's 300 students won't have to worry about last-week tests or homework.

The last three weeks of school in Greensburg are canceled, except perhaps for the school's talented golf and track teams, said schools superintendent Darin Headrick.

There will be a high school graduation, he said. "But when and where, we don't know yet."

The school buildings disintegrated, but the vaults containing permanent records appear to be intact, he said. They have not been able to get into the vaults yet.

Headrick said he rode out the tornado with Principal Randy Fulton in Fulton's basement. They were watching the storm on television. "The pressure change was unbelievable," Headrick said.

They huddled in a living room in the basement, then moved to a bedroom as the storm hit. "It was ten seconds between when we shut the door and the house blew," Headrick said. "Randy looked up, and it was just sky."

While there won't be formal classes the rest of the school year, school will resume in August, Headrick said.

They don't know how or where yet. Perhaps portable classes, or classes in neighboring towns. Before any decisions are reached they hope to meet with parents, students and teachers to talk it all over.

"Our teachers will have jobs; our kids will have classrooms to attend," Headrick said.

"This is going to be a huge hurdle for people to overcome, but it will also be a huge opportunity," he added.

The golf and track teams will try to keep competing, he said. They are contenders to go to state championships later this month.

"We'd sure like to get them there if we can," Headrick said.

Headrick said he hopes to reassure students and parents about school soon.

"For now we're just telling people that summer vacation just started a little early."

People wondering about school issues can go online to the Greensburg school district's Web site, www.usd422.org. Officials hope to have information about classes and school activities posted as soon as possible, Headrick said.

Contributing: Roy Wenzl, Deb Gruver, Jillian Cohan, Jerry Siebenmark and P.J. Griekspoor of The Eagle; Associated Press