"Near Perfect Town Destroyed by Tornado" Greensburg by atufft

Greensburg Travel Guide: 20 reviews and 68 photos

Shrinking Kiowa County Seat Made Famous by Tornado

I frequently drive US 50 and 54, when traveling from Kansas City through the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles enroute to Tucumcari, NM, which is on I-40. This route skirts past the Oklahoma toll roads and avoids Colorado I-70 route winter chain requirements, when in route between the midwest or northeast and California. Thus, this mostly ribbon highway route is almost a direct southwestern diagonal trajectory between I-70 and I-40.

Greensburg one of many grain silo towns located along US54 in southwest Kansas, as it is southeast of Dodge City, west of Wichita, and northeast of Liberal. The town was originally a stagecoach stop for D.R. "Cannonball" Green who founded the city in the 1880's. Later, the town was a water stop for several railroads, serviced by a hand dug well--the world's deepest--that was also the primary water supply for the city until 1932. The town's well was converted into a tourist attraction, and in the post World War II period of Kansas family wheat farming, the town prospered, and then as corporate farming and government "no planting" subsidies expanded, a slow decline began during the 1960's.

By the time the tornado struck on the stormy night of May 4, 2007, the population had already dwindled to less than 1,500. The devasting two mile wide twister, spinning south to north, struck almost directly along the town's main commercial street. Actually, the tornado--a cyclone of winds exceeding 200 miles per hour-- was only one of several twisters generated during that storm, and not even the largest. Like most tornados though, the largest one struck further north in Kiowa County--touching open farmland and so left little property damage behind, as did several smaller tornados generated that night. The water tower and virtually the entire town was destroyed in minutes, and some eleven people died. The sole architectural survivors were one brick commercial building downtown, the brick and rebar reinforced county building and courthouse, and the grain elevator. Each of these buildings needed substantial renovation after the storm however. After the tornado passed, most residents crawled from the protection of their basements into a pouring rain to survey the scattered remains of their demolished town. As Greensburg slowly rebuilds with state and federal help, a "green" theme of wind turbines and energy efficient architecture is very apparent. In spite of this effort by civic leaders, many survivors of the tornado simply collected their insurance settlements and moved away, effectively depopulating the town still further, and making rebuilding of this tiny town a considerable challenge.

What's Gone, What's Still There, What's Being...

Much of what VT member Stephen-KarenConn described in his "near perfect town" tips just three months before are now gone. The Hunter Drugstore, Twilight Theater, Big Well Cover and Museum Building, and County Museum were all destroyed by the Tornado. Frank Thompson's photo and link provide devasting aerial images of the destruction. Stephen-KarenConn off-the-beaten-path tips for Fromme-Birney Round Barn and MT Liggett's Metal Artwork are still valid as these were outside the tornado's path, and so survived destruction. The County Museum apparently has new quarters in progress, the Big Well Gift Shop is in temporary quarters and the museum will be rebuilt. I didn't learn what has happened to the meteorite former in the Big Well Museum. The Twilight Theater is still fundraising for a planned rebuild. The loss of the county's only drugstore was noted in a 2009 fundraising effort to provide flu vaccines, which were given at the new Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, but I've not found any information whether or not the drugstore and soda fountain will be rebuilt.

  • Last visit to Greensburg: Apr 2010
  • Intro Updated Apr 18, 2010
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Reviews (10)

Comments (6)

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    May 15, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    Hey Alan, great intro and photos of this unfortunate town. Keep up the good work documenting America's heartland!

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Apr 30, 2010 at 7:07 PM

    Whenever there is hope there is progress! Excellent page!

  • glabah's Profile Photo
    Apr 22, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    I believe the round structure is an effort at building a less tornado prone building. Wind is less likely to catch round objects, and thus they are more energy efficient in windy climates, as well as being possibly somewhat less tornado prone.

  • mvtouring's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    Simply amazing the destruction that can be caused by Mother Earth. Thanks for bringing us such great tips on a town totally devasted ;-)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    You got some nice pics of the town and its progress, or lack thereof. We went through here last year and little has changed since then

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    It's scary to see that a whole town can be flattened in just a matter of minutes. But I'm glad to see they are using wind turbines and energy efficient architecture in the rebuilding process.

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