GREENSBURG, Kan. - On May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas was hit by an EF5 tornado, estimated to be 1.7 miles wide, traveling for nearly 22 miles. The National Weather Service estimated winds of the tornado reached 205 mph. Ninety-five percent of the city was confirmed to be destroyed, with the other 5 percent severely damaged.
One of the destroyed buildings was home to Adams Electric & Plumbing LCC. The business serviced many residential and commercial HVAC customers in the Greensburg area and, according to owner Robert Blasi, lost “hundreds and hundreds of customers.”
The tragedy had a two-fold impact on the business not only because of the number of homes destroyed, but because the downtown business itself was destroyed. Fortunately none of the three employees were hurt or had their own homes destroyed. Blasi said all lived on the outskirts of Greensburg and avoided the devastation that struck the heart of the town. Sadly, one employee lost his grandmother in the tragedy.
“The first thing we had to do was pick up pieces and see where everyone was at,” said Blasi. “The amount of work that has to be done is astronomical.”
Blasi said that in spite of the damage to his business, his No. 1 concern is taking care of his loyal customers. “They are the No. 1 reason we are in business,” he said.
Keeping the residents in Greensburg will be a very key objective for all business owners, including Blasi, who owns and operates two other similar businesses in nearby communities. He said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is planning to install temporary trailers and recreational vehicles on the lots where people lost their homes. They will contract for sewer, water, and electric lines to be hooked up to the temporary homes so that when utilities are restored, the homes will be inhabitable. The tornado destroyed all of the local utilities, which will continue to keep people away until the basic necessities are restored.
The problem is, if people can return to a home life, how can they support themselves? The town’s businesses, including Blasi’s, were destroyed. He is unable to transfer his employees from Greensburg to his other locations. Luckily, the employees are helping out some of Adams’ electricians in the area, so they can still collect a paycheck.
“There are many questions we are all asking,” he said. “I don’t know if there will be any assistance available to these people through FEMA.”
The plan is to rebuild the town but Blasi said it will be costly, somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion. “For example,” added Blasi, “one of the largest John Deere dealers in the state was located in Greensburg. There were 34 brand new combines that were all lost.”
“We’d like to rebuild right back where we were.”
In the meantime, the task is to sort out what is salvageable and remove tons of debris from city streets. After that, the physical rebuilding will take place.
For now, American Red Cross volunteers and staff from across Kansas and neighboring states are providing safe shelter, food and relief services for those affected by the tornado and the flooding. Red Cross workers have set up emergency shelters in the affected Kansas counties, providing food, water and other services. To donate and get more information, visit www.redcross.org.
“This is one of those things that no one ever plans for,” said Blasi.