GREENSBURG, KAN. — When warning sirens wailed just before 10 p.m. on Friday, May 4, residents of this oil, gas and farming town sought cover, bracing themselves for a storm. What they didn't know was that, while most of them would survive the F-5 category tornado, at least 11 people and almost their entire city would succumb to the power and brutality of 205-mph winds.
Outside help:Volunteer veterinarians from nearby cities stepped in for local DVM R.G. Skaggs, whose practice was lost.
When Mother Nature retreated, she left in her wake a path of destruction two miles wide and 25 miles long, littered with the remains of what once was a peaceful community of about 1,500.
"This is by far the worst storm I have seen. The entire town is gone. Businesses are gone; the schools are gone; the hospitals are gone. The entire community is wiped out," says LuAnn Dorman, DVM and practice owner in a neighboring Kansas community. She and other DVMs from Pratt, Dodge City, Wichita and Kingman stepped in to help area pets hurt or lost
Orphaned: This volunteer cares for a rescued calf. The 100 dogs and cats unclaimed after the storm will be housed for 60 days in an addition to the Pratt County Humane Society shelter, funded by donations honoring a Greensburg woman who died in the storm. The animals might then be available for adoption.
"I was called to Greensburg at about 2 in the morning, and I brought some people with their animals back to my clinic for treatment. Then I returned to Greensburg to help with injured and loose animals and search-and-rescue efforts," Dorman says.
The city's lone mixed-animal practitioner—Robert Skaggs, DVM—was able to evacuate all animals from his Maple Avenue clinic before it was devastated. The city's Department of Transportation building, one of the few structures left standing, would later become the city's temporary animal shelter.
"More bad weather kept coming through, so we were trying to get the animals treated, processed and out of there. They were taken to nearby veterinary clinics and humane societies. We were just trying to get them out of the path of future bad weather," says Dorman, who handled more than 30 animals through her clinic in nearby Pratt. The storm didn't discriminate. Assistance was needed for a variety of species – including cats, dogs, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, turkeys and mules, among others, says DVM Christen Skaer, who is working to form an official state animal response team in Kansas.
"This is the first disaster we've worked. Essentially, this was trial by fire," she says of her team, made up of about 10 members.
Tornado's destructive path: Leaving an estimated 1,500 residents and 400 animals homeless, the F-5 category tornado tore through the city with wind speeds up to 205 mph, destroying 90 percent of the city.
"We haven't had anything like this in Kansas in quite a while," Skaer says of the storm. "It's completely gone. The whole town is gone. There is nothing left that isn't at least majorly damaged."