- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2008

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — President Bush hailed the resilience of this town and its tiny high school graduating class yesterday, one year after a tornado barreled through with astonishing fury.

Never before had Mr. Bush delivered a commencement address at a high school, and his presence was meant to reflect how far Greensburg has come. From near-total devastation May 4, 2007, this town is recovering, and hope has been rekindled.

At the center of attention is the Class of 2008 — 10 boys and eight girls. They finished their senior year at a makeshift campus of trailers.

“We celebrate the resurgence of a town that stood tall when its buildings and homes were laid low,” Mr. Bush said at the temporary high school gym.

“We celebrate the power of faith, the love of family and the bonds of friendship that guided you through the disaster,” Mr. Bush said. “And we celebrate the resilience of 18 seniors who grew closer together when the world around them blew apart.”

Mr. Bush said the graduating class has sent a powerful message to the nation: “Greensburg, Kansas, is back, and its best days are ahead.”

The tornado that flattened Greensburg was the worst in the United States in years. It raged at 205 mph, spanned more than a mile and a half and killed 11 people.

From the ruins, it was hard to tell what had stood before. Mr. Bush visited five days after the storm, when he walked through the gnarled mess and handed out hugs.

An estimated 95 percent of the town was leveled. No more schools, city hall, fire department or power plant. More than 900 homes were destroyed. The scene that was left was eerie, with cars planted into crumpled structures and trees ripped of all their limbs.

Greensburg’s resilience has drawn raves.

Homes are popping up; businesses are reopening; and a new water tower symbolically stands tall. The population is down from its pre-tornado total of 1,400 but rising.

Rather than rebuild in traditional ways, the city is re-engineering itself as a model of energy efficiency. The new green in Greensburg means the place is being built to run on clean energy, including, of all things, wind power.

The high school boys basketball team was forced to play every one of its games on the road. It responded by making it to the state tournament for the first time in 30 years.

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