Tornado blows Greensburg, Kansas, onto a green brick road
GREENSBURG, Kan. — From his new home site, a grassy hillock on the west edge of the city he once governed as mayor, John Janssen, BS ’71, can look out at the horizon and see the gold of a Kansas wheat field colliding magnificently with the cobalt blue of an endless summer sky.
You’d swear you could see all the way to tomorrow from here. It’s the highest point in the city of Greensburg, population 700. Janssen and his wife, Lana, bought the plot after a May 4, 2007, tornado when the previous owner said enough’s enough and, like more than 800 other residents, put Greensburg in the rearview mirror for good.
Two stately maple trees, among the handful in town not damaged by one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history, stand sentry on either side of the property. In between, the Janssens thought, would be the perfect place to build their dream home. The perfect place to look out and watch Greensburg rebuild its dream, too.
It’s a dream Janssen and other city leaders share with those who stayed after the tornado left. It is a dream to try to rebuild Greensburg as America’s first all-green community. “If you can dream a little bit,” Janssen says, looking out over all of Greensburg, “you can see the possibilities.”
It’s a dream that has garnered national attention. Janssen has been to conferences and hearings in Anaheim, Washington and Philadelphia, talking up Greensburg and its green revolution.
The Discovery Channel’s eco-lifestyle television network Planet Green is running a series about Greensburg. President Bush has visited twice. And CBS’s “The Early Show” spent an entire week there broadcasting on the anniversary of the tornado.
But it’s not the nightmare of the tornado that occupies Janssen’s time. It’s the dream he sees from this small rise at the end of Sunset Lane that sustains him.90% of buildings blown away
The twister changed the life of everyone in Greensburg, killing 11 people and destroying an estimated 95 percent of the structures in town during the nine minutes of mayhem while it was on the ground. And while it’s only been 17 months since the night of devastation that, literally, took Greensburg off the map, Janssen only talks about the tornado if prodded. He’d rather talk about the plans to put Greensburg back on the map.
“The tornado is ancient history,” he says. “It’s all in the past. I’d rather talk about the future.”
The idea to make Greensburg green, Janssen says, was born in meetings with Mayor Lonnie McCollum and city administrator Steve Hewitt in those chaotic, what-do-we-do-now days following the tornado.
“If you have a clean slate,” Hewitt said, “why would you rebuild the town the same way it was? Logically, the thing to do is to build it green. After all, it’s part of our name.”
“It’s the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “Most of the houses in this town were built between 1915 and 1950. If you’re spending
$350 or $400 a month on utilities and you could do a few simple things that would get your utility bill down to $100, wouldn’t you do it?”