The Wichita Eagle
Wichita, Ks.
Posted on Mon, May. 05, 2003
Kansas governor surveys areas devastated by tornado
BY STAN FINGER
Knight Ridder Newspapers


FRANKLIN, Kan. - (KRT) - Gov. Kathleen Sebelius surveyed tornado-ravaged areas of Kansas by air and on foot Monday, offering victims solace and promising to expedite her request to have seven counties declared disaster areas by the federal government.
Standing next to the foundation of a house that had blown away the day before, Sebelius said she wanted to tell the residents "how very sorry I am" for "a very significant loss of life."
"That is a tragedy that will be difficult to arise from," she said.
Seven people died in Kansas and about 50 more were injured by several tornadoes that struck more than a half-dozen counties. Sebelius has declared seven counties state disaster areas, and said Monday that she would work with Missouri officials to make a joint plea for federal disaster relief.
President Bush promised quick action during a trip Monday to Little Rock, Ark.
"The state and local authorities need to know the federal government will be moving as quickly as we possibly can to provide help where help is needed and where help is justified," he said.
"Nature's awfully tough at times, and the best thing we can do right now is to pray for those who have suffered."
FEMA Director Michael D. Brown plans to visit both states Tuesday, starting in the morning with Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties, then making a midday visit to hard-hit Pierce City, Mo., said Crystal Payton, spokeswoman for the regional Federal Emergency Management Administration office in Kansas City, Mo.
FEMA officials were already sizing up the damage in anticipation of a federal declaration. That would make victims eligible for low-interest loans.
"It is pretty dramatic devastation from the air," Sebelius said. "There are fields outside of Franklin where the wheat has been sucked out of the ground. It looks like someone painted the path" of destruction.
Sebelius first surveyed the damage in the southeastern corner of the state. She then flew north to Wyandotte County.
State officials said Franklin in Crawford County was the hardest-hit area.
Sebelius took time to talk to folks picking through what's left of the unincorporated town of about 200 people near Pittsburg.
She paused to speak with Debi Fager-Maghe, who was picking through piles of rubble to see what, if anything, could be saved. When Fager-Maghe told Sebelius in a breaking voice that her mother-in-law had been killed and two other relatives had lost their homes in the tornado, the governor was visibly shaken for a moment.
Wrapping Fager-Maghe in a long hug, Sebelius said softly, "I'm so sorry."

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