Kentucky Towns Devastated by Recent Tornadoes Can Learn From Recovery of Greensburg, Kansas

In the aftermath of towns across Kentucky being devastated by recent tornadoes, the little Midwestern community of Greensburg, Kansas, could prove a lesson in the long-term rebuilding efforts undertaken by small towns.

Locales across the Bluegrass State saw unforetold damage and over 70 casualties as a series of tornadoes rampaged across eight states over the weekend. One town, Dawson Springs, was 75 percent destroyed, according to its mayor, Chris Smiley.

The town of Mayfield, 70 miles from Dawson Springs, was also heavily damaged and saw eight people lose their lives after a candle factory collapsed.

"For some folks, I don't know that they'll ever recover from this completely, certainly not emotionally or psychologically," state Senator Whitney Westerfield told CNN. "Homes and buildings can be rebuilt in time, but this is the kind of thing that lasts with the community and with the family for a long time."

However, places across Kentucky may be able to take some lessons from Greensburg, as that community continues to recover from a natural disaster that took place nearly 15 years ago.

Greensburg, a town in southern Kansas with less than 1,000 people, fell victim to a massive category EF5 tornado in May 2007 that destroyed untold portions of the town and killed a number of residents.

However, after the storm settled, the town decided to build back in a new light, and soon became one of the most eco-friendly cities in the country.

Mayfield Kentucky
Many towns in Kentucky have been almost totally destroyed by a series of devastating tornados, and in the aftermath of the destruction, there is a chance that some of these locales could take a lesson in rebuilding eco-friendly initiatives from the community of Greensburg, Kansas. Here, the ruined town of Mayfield, Kentucky, can be seen following a tornado ripping through. Scott Olson/Getty

Newsweek spoke to Greensburg city administrator Stacy Barnes, who saw firsthand the aftermath of the tornado on the town and described the rebuilding effort that continues to take place.

Barnes told Newsweek that she was away at college when the tornado struck, and returned weeks later to find 95 percent of Greensburg destroyed. This included numerous residential homes and streets.

In addition, Barnes said that numerous public, municipal and county buildings were leveled. This included the local hospital as well as schools, she noted.

However, the Greensburg city council decided to reconstruct as a green haven, passing a resolution that all city buildings would be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Barnes estimated that the initial effort to rebuild the major portions of Greensburg took about five years. However, reconstruction and rebuilding efforts still continue, even to this day, she added.

Today, Greensburg "draws 100 percent of its electricity from a wind farm, making it one of a handful of cities in the United States to be powered solely by renewable energy," according to The Washington Post.

Energy-efficient buildings within the town include the city hall, school, library, and museum, in addition to many more.

The town's website also states that Greensburg contains the "most LEED-certified buildings per capita in the world." Greensburg is also reportedly the first community in the nation to use all LED streetlights.

Many of these projects were funded by donations and disaster-relief funds. While it took significant spending to turn Greensburg eco-friendly, the Post estimated that the green buildings help the town save $200,000 per year in fuel costs.

All of this occurred in a conservative rural town in a highly red state, similar to Kentucky, where green energy initiatives are not always popular. However, Greensburg was able to put political ideologies aside and re-create their city in the most efficient way possible.

While it will likely take untold amounts of time for the numerous towns in Kentucky to rebuild, significant disaster funding has already been pledged to the state. There is a chance, then, that some towns could take a lesson from Greensburg and build their towns back in an even more productive manner than before.