Three years after tornado, Kansas town seeks 'so-called normalcy'

GREENSBURG, Kan. — Step up to the rooftop garden of the Silo Eco-Home and look north. See how much Greensburg has changed in the three years since it was nearly wiped clean by an EF-5 tornado.

Look west and you will see the state-of-the-art hospital. It is loaded with cutting-edge green features, such as a wind turbine, gray water recycling, heat-recovery systems and a concrete-reinforced conference room with a three-day supply of food and water.

Look east and you will see the dramatic passive-solar rooflines of the school that soon will educate children from all of Kiowa County.

What you will not see, however, are trees.

Most of Greensburg's trees were hauled away after the storm. Around town, barren zombie trees jut from the ground at ghoulish angles, a reminder of what Greensburg lost on May 4, 2007, and what it cannot readily replace.

Thirteen people died that night. Five hundred people — more than a third of the town's population — moved away afterward. As for that other greening of Greensburg, it will be years before residents can look out the windows of their new energy-efficient homes and see the foliage in all its pre-storm glory.

"We're a very tender community emotionally right now," said Mayor Bob Dixson. "We've been running on adrenaline for three years, and now our emotions are catching up with us. Our loss has been internalized for three years, and it hasn't spilled out because we've been uplifting each other by being busy.

"We had a cause. Now we are back to so-called normalcy."

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