Volunteers Tackle Tornado Clean Up

Flag Represents Spirit As Devastated Rural Town Cleans Up

Dozens of volunteers arrived to help this tornado-devastated town Saturday.

Rosemary Rosales, a mother of two, was killed when the tornado threw her into a tree.

At least seven people were hospitalized after the tornado hit on Wednesday.

Like the Marines on Iwo Jima, residents began declaring victory over nature Saturday after the storm damaged 164 homes -- more than one-third of the homes in Holly. American flags went up on crumbling structures.

"That was the thing that struck me. It certainly felt they were declaring victory. It does evoke that kind of emotion," Sorensen said.

"The spirit is really high," said Abi Weaver of the Red Cross. Warmer weather was helping with temperatures expected to reach the low 70s on Sunday.

Though the tornado was a surprise, turning to a monster with winds of up 150 mph that was only spotted on radar just as it hit the town of 1,000, the reaction of the hard scrabble population wasn't. The area has endured a lengthy drought, the loss of the region's major employer and January blizzards that decimated cattle herds.

"The residents are pulling together and cleaning up," said Sorensen. Thursday, the day after the tornado hit, schoolchildren were excused from school to help residents and volunteers fill bags with debris. They loaded 250 dump trucks in two days.

The Red Cross set up a shelter for the homeless, but only five people needed it. The rest stayed with family or friends in the close-knit Kansas border town.

"We don't have any difficulty making sure people are fed and clothed and have a place to stay," said Sorensen. There had been no reports of looting -- the business district was mostly untouched by the storm. The State Patrol sent extra troopers into the area.

Sorensen said that 75 percent of the homes in the area, including some damaged ones, would have power by Saturday night. Tests showed the water system was intact and was safe to drink, Sorensen said. Natural gas lines remained undamaged, though connections were capped at 108 damaged homes.

Phone lines in the area are buried, and service was not interrupted outside the storm's epicenter. Verizon set up an extra cellular tower because the influx of rescue workers and volunteers overwhelmed existing facilities.

Weaver said the Red Cross, partnering with other organizations, was working on the issue of long-term housing for the displaced. The organization had already served 4,000 meals by Friday and helped 114 people with their basic needs, ranging from lost prescriptions to clothes. The Holly medical clinic remained open, although it was closed for the night when the storm hit.

State officials have reviewed the damage and were expected to ask for federal help.

Volunteers and donors flooded the town with supplies and to give a hand. The Red Cross alone had 50 volunteers. Home Depot sent building supplies. Safeway sent 1,000 pounds of hamburger and a truckload of water.

Sorensen said a preliminary review indicates 164 homes suffered damage. Two were affected only slightly and 114 suffered minor damage. Nineteen suffered major damage, and 29 were destroyed. "They've lost a third of their housing stock," he said.

Sorensen said no one should come to the town to help or send supplies without calling a hot line set up to organize support, (719) 537-6047.

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