Greensburg marks 10 years since deadly tornado

GREENSBURG, Kan. (KWCH) May 4 marks the 10 year anniversary of the Greensburg tornado.

Greensburg, KS May 16, 2007 - The center of town resembles a bomb site twelve days after it was hit by an F5 tornado. Cleanup and reconstruction will take years. Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA

The deadly storm ripped through the small Kiowa County town in 2007, killing 12 people - 10 in Greensburg, one in Pratt County and one in Stafford County - and destroyed 95-percent of the community.

The EF5 tornado remained on the ground for about 65 minutes, it traveled more than 28 miles and was measured at nearly 1.7 miles in width.

A memorial service Thursday night included a minute of silence at 9:45 p.m., marking 10 years to the minute that the tornado hit. You can view footage from the memorial service below.

After the May 4, 2007 tornado, Eyewitness News remained on-air for over 24 hours covering the deadly twister and community clean up. We told the stories of those who rode out the tornado in their homes, and the tales of those who lost their lives in the storm.

The tornado's wrath wasn't limited to Greensburg city limits.
Meteorologist Merril Teller and reporter Michael Schwanke remember the tornado causing a lot of damage to crops and livestock, in addition to deaths and injuries.

After the tornado, Eyewitness News spoke with a family just south of Greensburg.

"They got a call at the last second from a friend, telling them to get in to their basement," Schwanke says. "That's what they did."

A girder fell and hit the family's son on the head. He was taken to the hospital, but ended up being OK.

Video from that night also showed some of the family's livestock.

"They had 50 head of cattle. They had only found one when we left there," Schwanke says.

You can see clips from our team, reflecting on coverage of the aftermath of the Greensburg tornado here .

Once people had a chance to assess the damage, it didn't take long for rebuilding efforts in the Greensburg area to begin.

Soon after the tornado hit, the home of the world's largest hand dug well pledged to rebuild a better, greener city.

According to the town's site, Greensburg is now home to the most LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings per capita in the United States. It is the first city to have all LED streetlights, and it is 100% renewable, 100% of the town, running completely off wind energy.

Rebuilding highlights include the new Twilight Theatre and Community Auditorium , new school facilities, the Kiowa County Historical Museum and Soda Fountain, the 5.4.7 Arts Center and the Big Well Museum and Visitor Information Center.

May 4-7, Greensburg is hosting a series of events and activities throughout the weekend to commemorate the day its community changed.

Eyewitness News is live in Greensburg all week covering the stories of how far the community has come and how far it still has to go.

Through the afternoon Thursday, (May 4), people held ceremonies around Greensburg.

People have been putting up Stars of Hope around town. The stars are made by children in Greensburg and all over Kiowa County. The stars' purpose is to remember the lives lost from the tornado and to celebrate how far the community has come in the 10 years since May 4, 2007.

The stars include messages including, "We have Faith in You," and Love is the Answer." Some of the stars have arrived from other communities hit by tragedy, including from children in San Bernadino, Calif. where a mass shooting occurred in December 2015. A message from San Bernadino says, "We've been through tragedy too and we want to be connected."

People in Greensburg say they remember similar stars around the community after the tornado hit. They say the stars provided bright spots of color after all of the destruction.

The night of May 4 included the Starlight Public Art Dedication at 7:30 p.m., the unveiling and lighting of 'The Beacon' sculpture at 8:30, a memorial service at the Big Well Park Memorial at 9 p.m. and a moment of silence at 9:45, the minute the tornado hit.

We are also telling stories of those who survived the tornado. including a widow who was driven to rebuild , a librarian who made a difficult decision to stay , a Dillons employee who sheltered from the tornado in a meat cooler and a high school senior who doesn't remember much of the 'old' Greensburg, but will never forget the night of the tornado .