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Mayor: Flattened town will be rebuilt 'brand new'

Story Highlights

• Mayor says Kansas town's residents already making progress
• Priority is restoring utilities to the town of 1,600
• Mayor among displaced, staying in friend's truck
• President Bush will tour the devastation Wednesday
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GREENSBURG, Kansas (CNN) -- The mayor of this western Kansas town -- razed by a massive tornado that killed 10 people -- vowed Tuesday that Greensburg's 1,600 residents will band together to build "a brand-new town."

"We understand that it's a tough go and it will be for a few days, but we're making progress -- and a lot of progress -- and it's going to get better every minute, every hour," Mayor Lonnie McCollum told reporters.

The town will rely heavily on federal aid, said McCollum, adding that he personally witnessed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's rapid response to the Friday storm. (Watch how the small town is embarking on the road to recovery Video)

"As I broke down my back door to go out, there's a fireman from Dodge City, Kansas," McCollum said. "He meets me as I'm digging out of the rubble to see if I'm OK. And almost the next person behind him is somebody from FEMA."

FEMA officials have vowed not to repeat the mistakes that drew harsh criticism after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Friday's monster tornado ripped a 22-mile (35-kilometer) path through rural south Kansas, leaving an annihilated Greensburg in its wake, the National Weather Service said. The weather service classified the twister as an EF-5, a designation reserved for the strongest funnel clouds.

The storm claimed its 10th victim Tuesday -- Robert Tim Buckman, a Macksville, Kansas, police officer.

Buckman, 46, was injured when a tornado crushed his squad car and carried it 300 yards into a field, his son, Derrick, told television station KAKE.

Buckman was attempting to warn residents of rural Stafford County when he encountered the twister.

He died after being taken off life support, his son said.

The twister's winds, which at some points reached 205 mph (330 kph), destroyed about 95 percent of homes in the town about 110 miles west of Wichita. Even City Hall, where key municipal records were stored, is nowhere to be found. (Watch a 360-degree view of the devastation Video)

McCollum said Greensburg's priority is restoring utilities, but with most of the town's structures spirited away or leveled there is little recourse for the myriad residents taking refuge in shelters. The mayor said he is among the displaced.

"I'm staying in the front seat of my friend's pickup right now. That's my bedroom," he said.

The search for survivors who might be trapped in the rubble peppering Greensburg's landscape continued Tuesday. Two shelters remained open, but City Administrator Steve Hewitt urged residents to find temporary housing in nearby communities. (Watch rescuers comb through the rubble Video)

It will take "a couple of months" to estimate the cost of the devastation, but regardless, McCollum said, "We're going to have a brand new town here."

Greensburg has two claims to fame: The world's largest hand-dug well and a 1,000-pound pallasite meteorite. McCollum -- who was born and reared in Greensburg -- said the town must clutch tight to its roots.

"We can't let that go," he said. "This town owes it to our historical roots and what we have here to rebuild."

President Bush has issued a disaster declaration for Kiowa County, of which Greensburg is the county seat, and he is planning to tour the devastation Wednesday.

Though Hewitt applauded the FEMA and National Guard response to the disaster, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the federal response was slow because too much National Guard manpower and equipment is in Iraq. (Watch how the National Guard is struggling with shortfalls Video)

White House spokesman Tony Snow shot back that Sebelius was to blame for any delays and said, "The administration is doing whatever it can. If there's a need for equipment, it will arrive."

He added Tuesday that the federal response should be considered "a success story."


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