The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 2010-05-03
By Aaron BarnhartMay 3--GREENSBURG, Kan. Walk into any building on any treeless street in Greensburg, and chances are you'll find someone who can tell you what it was like to go through the storm. And what a struggle it was to come back.
But not at Mackie Shae Boutique. Linaka Lauer presides over this brightly-painted store of jewelry, clothing and whimsical knick-knacks here on Main Street. Three years ago, when the massive tornado came through Kiowa County and decimated more than 90 percent of Greensburg, she was living in Texas. She knew next to nothing about the town or its recovery until a few months ago.
Yet the story of how Mackie Shae came to Greensburg says something about this town's comeback that all those energy-efficient homes and newly built wind turbines can't.
Lauer was in Amarillo with her fiance, Buddy Probst, and their Boston terrier Mackie Shae. She was struggling to keep her boutique going in a high-end shopping mall with high-end rents. Probst was looking for work.
He answered an ad for a full-time position at the Gamble farm north of Greensburg. Ki Gamble got him on the phone.
"When he hung up he said, 'I think he's more interested in you than in me,'" Lauer recalled.
That night, Ki Gamble told his wife: We're going to get a two-for-one deal.
Ki Gamble, it turns out, sits on the board of Kiowa County United, a grassroots effort to kick-start business in downtown Greensburg. The group had raised $1.5 million in local donations and put up a strip mall of 10 parcels -- doubling the number of storefronts on Main Street.
And there was one parcel left.
In March, Mackie Shae Boutique opened in Kiowa County United. Instead of the $1,700 a month Lauer paid at the other mall, she pays $450. Business has been good.
"The locals here want to support you," she said. "This doesn't even compare to Amarillo."
For all the talk of "the greening of Greensburg," it's unclear exactly how much support the city's eco-friendly push actually has among residents.
Last fall, the groundbreaking for the new Greensburg Wind Farm, five miles out of town, was attended as much by out-of-town dignitaries and green-industry executives as it was by locals.
Mike Estes said support for sustainability efforts among the residents of Greensburg is probably "50-50." Mike and his brother Kelly Estes rebuilt their John Deere dealership to LEED Platinum specifications. That led to a wind turbine business and a leadership role within Deere, setting up turbines at other dealerships and showing colleagues how to make money going green.
Estes says it's had an impact on Greensburg's eco-tourism business.
"I do eight to ten tours a month," he said. "Busloads from all over the US, even the globe, Russia and France. I think it's gaining momentum."
While researching his new book, "Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather," Mike Smith, the Wichita meteorologist and founder of WeatherData Inc., discovered that there had only been one storm like Greensburg's before.
It was in 1955, and the town in the crosshairs was Udall, southeast of Wichita. Both the Udall and Greensburg storms were extremely violent, both struck at night, both entered town from the south (instead of cutting a more common southwest-northeast path) and obliterated communities of similar size and home construction.
"These are probably the two most identical storms I have ever seen," said Smith.
Except for one key difference. Tornado warnings weren't issued in 1955, and Udall was blindsided. More than 60 percent of its population was killed or injured. In Greensburg, where residents were warned by TV, radio and the city's warning sirens, the number killed or injured were less than 4 percent of the population.
Thirteen people died that night in and around Greensburg, but the survivors believe they are blessed. Not only blessed to have tornado warnings, but also blessed to have people in leadership -- from Steve Hewitt to Scott Brown to the state representative, Dennis McKinney -- ready to rebuild the next day. Blessed to have an active ministerial alliance, with pastors from different faiths whose friendships would be vital to keeping people uplifted while they rebuilt.
"God's hand was on this community for years before the storm," said Kim Gamble.
And even if that spirit has dissipated into small-town squabbling, even if ministers have stopped attending civic meetings, even if a recent survey of Greensburg High School students found little support for green initiatives, you can't take away a blessing.
To see more of The Kansas City Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kansascity.com.
Copyright (c) 2010, The Kansas City Star, Mo.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
For reprints, email email@example.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.