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Tornado-struck Kansas town rebuilds green

A year after a tornado stuck Greensburg, Alan Hewitt and other residents are rebuilding the town to environmentally-sustainable building standards.

President George W. Bush delivers the commencement address during a graduation ceremony at Greensburg High School.

REUTERS/Jim Young

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Alvin Hewitt was the first baby born at Kiowa County Memorial Hospital after it opened in 1950.

Today, the hospital is gone. So are the red brick high school, the single-screen movie theater, the soda shop, City Hall, the county courthouse. Like 95 percent of this little town on the prairies of southwest Kansas, they were destroyed by a tornado that struck a year ago Sunday.

Mr. Hewitt could have taken his insurance check and moved away, as about half the town's residents did. He didn't.

On the first anniversary of the storm, President Bush returned to Greensburg to celebrate its "year-long journey from tragedy to triumph" as exemplified by the stubborn determination of a town full of Alvin Hewitts: hundreds of people who refused to simply salvage what they could and then drive away from the rubble.

By the estimate of state Democratic House leader Dennis McKinney, at least half of the 1,400 residents remained. They are rebuilding the town, turning the town green – figuratively and literally.

The town, founded in 1886 and named for a 19th-century stagecoach driver, D.R. "Cannonball" Green, is rising again, built this time with a raft of energy-saving measures incorporated in the designs. Wind turbines and solar panels are contributing power. Native grasses are being planted to reduce the need for water.

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