Water tower devastate by 2007 tornado. Photo: greensburgks.org

Greensburg, Kansas

The recovery from a major disaster can feel overwhelming. However, the opportunity to build a new future for a community can bring hope.

On May 4, 2007, a tornado 1.8 miles wide ripped through Greensburg. It killed 11 and essentially leveled the town, destroying nearly 95 percent of the homes, businesses, municipal structures, schools, and vital infrastructure, and and the hospital.

While dealing with the emotional impact of the storm, City Administrator Steve Hewitt saw an opportunity to rebuild the city green, using the most environmentally sensitive methods possible. There were others promoting this idea besides Hewitt, but nobody played a larger role in making this vision come to reality. It was an idea that the community rallied around in the rebuilding effort.

Hewitt led the effort to rebuild smarter by encouraging the construction of buildings that were stronger, more energy-efficient, and a better use of tax dollars. He helped track and manage more than 25 projects that rebuilt the community infrastructure. The town constructed a new business incubator, a new city hall, a hospital, and a school — all at or near the highest national green-building standards. Energy-efficient LED streetlights were placed on every corner; a new streetscape was designed to collect stormwater runoff to nourish plants and trees; and a new wind-energy farm was built outside of town. Private businesses also rebuilt in environmentally sensitive ways.

The recovery process still continues, but as a result of these achievements, the story of Greensburg is no longer one of tragedy and survival, but one of hope and triumph.

Meet the Manager

Steve Hewitt

Former City Administrator
Steve Hewitt served as city administrator of Greensburg from 2006–2011. He was named Governing magazine’s 2009 Public Official of the Year as well as American City and County magazine’s 2008 Municipal Leader of the Year.