GREENSBURG, Kan. - Most of this southwest Kansas town was destroyed by a tornado, part of a violent storm system blamed for at least nine deaths, officials said Saturday amid warnings of more severe weather. It may take days for emergency crews to remove all the victims - dead and alive - from the rubble of homes and businesses, the city administrator said Saturday.
At least four people were killed, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department. The tornado that struck Friday night damaged about 90 percent of the Kiowa County town about 110 miles west of Wichita, City Administrator Steve Hewitt said Saturday.
Dazed residents walked the streets, looking for loved ones and taking in the sight of crumbled buildings and smashed cars.
Much of downtown was destroyed, along with City Hall, the high school and the junior high school, Hewitt said.
"I don't think we have a business left downtown," he said. A mandatory evacuation was ordered, he said.
Emergency personnel and search and rescue teams raced to Greensburg from throughout southwest Kansas. Trained dogs accompanied law enforcement officers who searched house to house for anyone trapped or injured.
A storm front spawned tornadoes along a line stretching northeast from Greensburg through central Kansas. Three small tornadoes also touched down Friday in rural southwestern Illinois, but officials said there were no reports of injury or damage. Two tornadoes struck in Oklahoma, damaging some structures but injuring no one, officials said.
Greensburg's injured were taken to hospitals as far away as Dodge City. Hewitt said at least 50 people had been taken to hospitals, 16 in critical condition, but said exact numbers were impossible to come by.
Rescuers pulled about 30 people from a partially collapsed hospital early Saturday. Watson said those rescued from the hospital basement had mostly minor injuries.
Phone service to the town of about 1,600 residents was knocked out, and the state's department of transportation was trying to restore emergency service.
The National Weather Service described the tornado as a "wedge," an especially broad and tall formation. Frederick Kruse of the weather service's Dodge City office said there were initial reports that the tornado was at least three-quarters of a mile wide on the ground.
Watson said the state fire marshal's office dispatched hazardous materials teams because railroad cars in Kiowa County had overturned. She said the National Guard was sending 40 troops to provide security around Greensburg.
Shelters were opened for Greensburg residents at Barclay College and a high school in nearby Haviland.
At the high school, the Rev. Gene McIntosh described how he huddled with his family in the parsonage of Greensburg's United Methodist Church as the tornado roared overhead. McIntosh said sofa cushions protected his 11-year-old son and the boy's friend from falling debris.
"There was a lot of praying down there," McIntosh said.