Greensburg, Kan., residents weigh in on the success of the early warning sirens and announcements, predicting the death toll could have been higher without it.
Scrolling messages crawled across TV screens May 4 in south central Kansas, alerting residents in Greensburg of a tornado possibly headed their way.
But for people who see those messages on a somewhat regular basis in tornado season, they were easily dismissed by some.
Then the message of a potential direct hit was reinforced as sirens began howling in the town of 1,400.
That alarm began moaning an estimated 20 minutes before the F-5 tornado rolled across Greensburg.
No officials commented on the success of the early warning system, but residents found it both effective and problematic.
“The TV warnings saved our lives,” said Jeanie Kile, who lived in Greensburg with husband, Gene, for 56 years. “They were saying it looked like we were going to take a direct hit.”
The pair headed to the basement, where they continued to monitor reports of the approaching storm. Kile said she wasn’t so sure the television warnings got to everyone though, because it was so late at night. She said many people were probably already in bed when the alerts began running.
But then the alarms sounded.
She estimated that the tornado was two miles away when the electricity went out.
Huddled in the basement, Kile said they could hear the roof being ripped off their home and the windows blow out.
Kile said they had only been to the basement twice before because of a tornado threat.
Resident Kay Towner said she and her husband heard the sirens while at their son’s home. The alert system sent the pair to the senior center, which has a basement.
However, they and others at the center were sitting on the ground level drinking coffee as the tornado approached.
She said the alarm prevented them from hearing the nearing storm.
“You couldn’t hear a damn thing with those sirens,” Towner said.
Josh and Devan Dellenbach described taking cover in their home’s safe haven after the sirens sounded. But once the tornado passed, they emerged to help find others.
Soon after, with the sirens silent, Josh Dellenbach said he noticed signs of more potential tornados.
The pair again took refuge from the storm as a small spin off twister passed by. Then they joined their neighbors in hunting for survivors among the wreckage.