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Napolitano says Kansas town a model for rebuilding

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JOHN MILBURN | February 11, 2009 06:59 PM EST | AP


GREENSBURG, Kan. — Other places can learn from the recovery of this small town since a tornado nearly wiped it out almost two years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told residents Wednesday.

Greensburg has made progress on building new homes, a courthouse and an art center since the devastating tornado on May 4, 2007, that caused 11 deaths.

"It's a tale for the rest of the country," Napolitano said at the reopening of a grocery store, which the south-central Kansas town lacked since the storm.

Residents said the store was not just a place to buy groceries and gasoline, but also a sign that their town would survive.

"It brought back our whole atmosphere in Greensburg," said Jamie Lowery, whose home east of town was damaged by the tornado. "It's more than what we expected."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said residents told her Greensburg would stand a chance if it had its school, health care and a grocery store. The school is operating in new facilities and temporary structures, while the hospital is still being rebuilt.

"This is really a great look at a town that is thriving, growing, continuing to grow. It's just a great story to share and great story to tell," Sebelius said.

The $2 million Dillons store combines a convenience store, deli and small grocery under one roof. If it succeeds, Dillons may replicate the store combination in other rural areas without services, said John Bays, president of Dillons stores, a division of Kroger Co.

On a brief walking tour of town, construction crews were visible _ no mature trees blocked the view _ as Mayor Bob Dixon explained what was lost and where structures were being rebuilt.

"It's a new beginning for all of us," Dixon said.

Napolitano, the former Arizona governor, was making her first visit to states since being confirmed to the Cabinet position. Her department oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, widely criticized for its response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

She visited Kentucky and Iowa earlier. Napolitano said she spoke with Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and offered assistance to deal with Tuesday's deadly tornadoes. She doesn't plan to tour the damaged communities there.