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Workers look for survivors after tornado

Kansas twister went 22 miles

GREENSBURG, Kan. -- Anxiety mounted yesterday as rescue teams continued combing through the ruins of this country town in a search for survivors, two days after a deadly tornado leveled nearly everything.

As more than 40 searchers scanned the heaps of bricks and wooden beams for signs of life, National Guard troops and state law enforcement officers barred families from returning to their former homes, frustrating many survivors eager to reclaim mementos.

"We realize they're trying to find people who are missing. But it would be nice to go in there and get some things before the rain ruins everything," said Sarah Coates, 24, as she left a nearby emergency shelter with her grandmother. "My aunt would really like to get her wedding ring."

At least 10 people were known dead from weekend storms in Kansas, including eight in the Greensburg area and one in a nearby county who died on Friday, state officials said. The other victim died in violent weather late Saturday.

At the east end of the two-lane highway that passes through Greensburg, a motel stands largely intact, and a small bar beckons with a large sign advertising Budweiser beer. But with every step west, the tornado's toll grows grimmer, and the structures become harder to recognize.

A hardware store is missing its roof, but still has wrenches neatly hanging up for sale on a display wall. A block further, wooden houses crumpled flat like deflated balloons. Beyond that, for about a dozen blocks, little remains but mounds of rubble.

State and federal officials said they had no idea how many of Greensburg's estimated 1,400 residents remained missing, because families scattered, making it difficult to know who was really unaccounted for.

But they vowed to keep searching, as long as there was still hope of finding a survivor in the town's debris-covered basements.

The National Weather Service said yesterday that the tornado that struck Greensburg on Friday night had winds of more than 200 miles per hour and left a track about 1.5 miles wide and 22 miles long.

The weather service classified it as an F-5 strength tornado, the highest level possible. The last US twister of that magnitude killed 36 people in Oklahoma in 1999.

"We never want to give up on someone," said R. L. Knoeffel, a spokesman for the State Police. "It would have been nice if you could have seen this beautiful little town as it once was," Knoeffel added. "Now it's all gone."

Small as it was, Greensburg, which lies about two hours west of Wichita in southwest Kansas, was considered the economic hub of its region. It was renowned as the home of the world's largest hand-dug well, and for having a 1,000-pound meteorite on display in the center of town.

After the twister, the well was destroyed and the meteorite hasn't been found.

Some former Greensburg residents in the nearby town of Pratt sat around a table yesterday and searched for something familiar in a photo of their town on the front page of the Wichita Eagle.

President Bush declared the region a federal disaster area yesterday.

The Greensburg tornado was part of a storm front that also spawned tornadoes in parts of Illinois, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Nebraska, though most damage elsewhere was minimal, officials said. A second round of storms massed over the Plains on Saturday, spinning off tornadoes from Oklahoma to South Dakota, which had at least 20 twisters, the weather service said.

Tornadoes kill an average of 70 people across the country each year, with most of the twisters striking between March and July. The worst tornado in US history struck on March 18, 1925, killing 689 people in Missouri, southern Illinois, and Indiana.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.