Five years after a tornado killed one person, injured about a dozen more and destroyed up to 40 percent of the small eastern Kansas town of Harveyville, officials are proud of the rebuilding progress but acknowledge more needs to be done.
The EF-2 tornado hit Harveyville, in Wabaunsee County just after 9 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2012. Residents, people from surrounding communities and many organizations quickly came together to get the town back on its feet, current Mayor Dustin Kuntz told The Emporia Gazette .
“We were so blessed by the love and support from other people, communities and agencies,” Kuntz said. “It was almost more than we could accept at one time. If you think about water going into a funnel, there’s only so much it will let through, and we had a funnel going on here. There was so much help. It was just so incredible it became a challenge to administrate it efficiently.”
Kuntz also credited the Harveyville Area Rebuilding Team, which consolidated community organizations and resources to help get residents back on their feet.
The mayor said a family occasionally moves into an empty lot and several residents have rebuilt.
Amy Terrapin, emergency management coordinator for Wabaunsee County, said residents stepped up.
“The community of Harveyville didn’t sit around and pity themselves,” Terrapin said. “They didn’t sit around and wait for the federal, state or local government to come pick things up. They got out their dump trucks and tractors and got to work.”
Today, the city has a new park and playground and a storm shelter. A group of mothers who were tired of taking their children to other communities to play in a nice park put on a bake sale and other events and received some memorial donations. They gave the town between $16,000 and $17,000 to use as matching funds to obtain grants.
When the twister hit, residents weren’t warned because the tornado siren had to be activated manually and it wasn’t. Now, the city has a new siren that can be remotely activated by the Wabaunsee County Sheriff’s Office.
A new United Methodist Church sits in the same location where the former church was destroyed. Some of the church’s original stained glass was created into an art piece by Breanna Strohm, the niece of Richard Slade, who died from injuries he suffered in the tornado. The piece sits in the church’s sanctuary.
“To see what we have today compared to what we had before and what got destroyed, it blows you away,” said longtime resident Larry Montgomery.
But Kuntz said the town still lives with some long-term repercussions from the storm.
“It would be nice if every empty lot had families that attended your churches and your schools, but we still have empty lots – we haven’t fully recovered yet,” he said.