Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Communities often pull together after disaster strikes

May 9, 2001

Chuck Magaha has seen it many times.

When disaster strikes, volunteers stream to aid victims.

"I think people want to be involved, to feel good about doing something," said Magaha, who's directed Leavenworth County Emergency Management for 12 years. "Human nature doesn't like to see somebody else suffer."

Magaha remembers when flood waters threatened Leavenworth in 1993.

"We had thousands of people help bag sand," he said. "Who in their right mind would sit there and take a shovel and fill up a sandbag and haul it half a block and put it on a pile?"

And when a tornado plowed into Tonganoxie last May, it was the same scenario.

"Usually when something like that happens, it pulls a community together," Magaha said.

"Is that unique to Kansas? I think it is. I think people, in general, are scared to death of the weather. They don't like to admit it. Once they see they weren't affected, they breathe a sigh of relief. But if they see someone who was affected, they want to help."

Help came by the hundreds last May to Tonganoxie.

Whether they brought their chainsaws to cut downed tangled trees or whether they brought their trucks to transport twisted pieces of metal fairground buildings, volunteers helped restore various segments of the community.

That spirit of volunteerism continued well after the aftershocks of the tornado subsided.

"It was very heartwarming to me to see that people still care, that they showed up to help Tonganoxie in its time of need," said Mayor John Franiuk.

After an insurance adjuster had documented damage to the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds, fair board president David Todd, called three or four people.

"I told them, 'We've got the green light. We can clean up now,'" Todd remembers.

That was the afternoon after the tornado struck.

"We had 75 people who showed up Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m.," Todd said. "I think I had said we were going to start at 8, but a bunch of them showed up early. We cleaned that fairgrounds up in a day, so at least it was so you could drive around safely.

"Now, that was very impressive."

It didn't stop there.

"Of course, as the summer went on, numerous people and groups came forward to work on different things that had to be fixed up so the fair could go off in time," Todd said.

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