Disaster News.net May 5, 2004
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KS town still rebuilding


FRANKLIN, Kansas (May 5, 2004) —
One year after an F-3 tornado ripped through the small southeastern Kansas town of Franklin, residents continue to clean up and rebuild.
The damage is still obvious in Franklin, according to Phyllis Bitner. "(The tornado) just went right down our Main Street, right through the center of town," said Bitner, chair of the council advisory committee for the Franklin Community Council. "We’ve come a long way, but it’s still pretty sad to look at our community, so much damage remains."

The tornado destroyed Franklin’s city hall, post office, and community center, along with 95 homes in all of Crawford County. That kind of damage isn’t quickly cleared away.

Bitner is helping plan a weeklong community cleanup to take place from May 10 to May 16. "There is still a lot of debris left around town," she said. "We won’t be cleaning up anything large, like concrete, but we want to continue removing branches and other things – it’s work that most anyone could do."

So far, Bitner said she’s got one group of 22 volunteers signed up to help, and she expects at least another 10 to 15. "We’ve got it all organized – we just need the hands to do it," she said. Bitner added that the area that needs cleaning is very large since the tornado left a large path of destruction.

One problem Franklin faced during the initial tornado recovery was not having a local governing body. Franklin had no city council or mayor, something Bitner said made it hard to plan immediate cleanup and funding.

But she said last October, community members formed the Franklin Community Council, a group that incorporated so that they could receive grants and funding for relief efforts.

And that’s what Franklin needs,  volunteers and funds.

And just because they’re in need of volunteers doesn’t mean that the residents of Franklin aren’t working hard. Bitner is a major volunteer herself, not just donating her time as a committee chair, but also running the Franklin, Kansas, Web site. She created www.FranklinKansas.com shortly after the tornado, but said she’d been intending to do it for some time.

"I’d always had my own Web site with a page on Franklin and its history," she said. "I guess the tornado was the perfect opportunity for me to finally expand it, and I see it as my contribution to the town."

The Web site contains information about the Franklin Community Council, how to help with the recovery work, photos, a calendar of events, and even a section where visitors can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the town’s motto since the May 4, 2003, twister: "The Spirit Remains…Franklin Forever!"

"The Web site has gotten great response from all over," said Bitner. "It’s a fun project."

The recovery effort is also receiving assistance from the local churches. Pastor Ted Wynn of Franklin’s New Life Baptist Church said he expects at least 15 of his parishioners to lend a hand throughout next week’s cleanup. "We’ve had the big machinery in here before to remove the big debris," he said. "The rest of this must be done by hand."

Wynn said his denomination, the Southern Baptists, also visited town in the past year and offered help in moving brush and fixing roofs.

Around Franklin, the home rebuilding process has been moving slowly, as the town needed a sewer system approved in order to start many of the home repairs and rebuilds. "But that just got approved, so everyone breathed a big sigh of relief," Bitner said.

The Main Street section of Franklin also looked desolate for some time, but the town received a little beautification help just last week. "We got grants from the state to plant trees on Main Street, and we planted them last Friday, which was Arbor Day," said Bitner. "This is so fantastic because all the trees that were there were stripped or gone."

To mark the one-year anniversary of the twister, several hundred people attended a memorial service last night in Franklin. Bitner and Wynn agreed that the event was excellent. "We had a great turnout, and people were really upbeat," said Wynn. "People are working together and helping each other out. I appreciate the attitude of the people, it’s great."

The sense of community in Franklin has lasted, according to Bitner. "Everyone is pitching in," she said. "We’re hopeful."

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