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Is Kansas Cursed? Residents Rebuild, Again

Residents stand atop debris as they try to catch a glimpse of President Bush touring tornado-struck Greensburg in May.
Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images
Residents stand atop debris as they try to catch a glimpse of President Bush touring tornado-struck Greensburg in May.

This year, Kansas has suffered some of the most expensive disasters in its history. The state has been pummeled by ice storms, tornadoes and floods causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

The stream of catastrophes led Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to quip recently, "The locusts may come next."

It began in January, when winter storms caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in Western Kansas, in the state's most expensive catastrophe ever.


Angie Morgan is the state coordinating officer for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She says the winter storm that shut down the western third of the state was one of the most costly ever to hit the region.

"So far," Morgan said, "our estimate is $370 million worth of infrastructure, with $360 million of that in utility poles and substations."

In addition to crumpled power lines, the ice and snow killed thousands of cattle. Agricultural losses from the storm are still being tallied.

Winter was followed by a spring freeze that crippled crops.

Then, on May 4, the town of Greensburg was wiped off the map by a tornado.


That tornado flattened almost every building in the small city. Insurance claims from the city of 1,400 exceed $150 million so far. And several months after the disaster, most of Greensburg remains littered in rubble.

Finally, flooding in June and July pounded the eastern side of Kansas, as they started in the middle of the state and moved east. The hardest hit was Coffeyville, in the southeast corner of Kansas.

On July 1, thousands of Coffeyville residents were driven from their homes when the Verdigris River rose more than 10 feet above flood stage. Water inundated the eastern side of town, covering some houses up to their eaves. The flood also overran a major gasoline refinery, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

After the floodwaters receded, sticky black residue clung to houses, trees and blades of grass.

Emergency officials declared 300 homes in one neighborhood to be destroyed. The flood also ruined 70 businesses, including six of Coffeyville's seven motels.

City officials say they're still trying to calculate the financial losses from the flood. Meanwhile, the city is trying to decide what to do with the devastated area along the Verdigris River.

Now residents are coping — and hoping for a break. As for the future, Angie Morgan of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said, "We've really had our share of disasters this year — and we are hoping that's it for us."

And it may be that Mother Nature's calamitous trek across Kansas this year is over. But judging from the trajectory of the woes, people in Missouri just have to hope that more disasters aren't headed their way.

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