The events of May 4, 2007, mean different things to each of the current and former Greensburg residents who survived the storm. Whether it was the loss of their home and possessions or the loss of a loved one, each person will carry the events of that night with them for the rest of their lives. For one local boy the monumental disaster will be forever linked to his birthday.
Jennifer Naumann and Eric Peters of Greensburg were only one day away from the expected birth of their first child Brett, when the May 4, 2007, tornado struck Greensburg.
“We were both at home over on Olive Street and I was really pregnant,” recalled Naumann. “I remember I was shampooing the carpets. My mom kept calling that evening, insisting that we come over to her house.”
Peters was out in the garage working on a pair of toolboxes when Jennifer’s mother Cindy began calling “every two minutes” trying to get them to come to her house for shelter from the approaching storm.
“Two weeks before she had done the same thing. We finally gave in and went over there and sat in her basement for forever and then we went home,” she added.
“We got about a quarter inch of rain [that time] and we figured it would be the same thing this time,” added Peters.
When the sirens went off on the evening of May 4th, both parents acknowledged that, at the time, there was a lack of urgency to seek shelter.
“Of course everybody’s outside just looking around,” said Peters. “We did drive down but we stopped at Quikshop and got ourselves a pop and took our time. We didn’t figure it was going to hit. [When we arrived] Jen’s mom threw a fit, because it took us 20-30 minutes to get there.”
Sitting in the basement of his mother-in-law’s house, Peters said they were unsure of the severity of the storm, but radio reports indicated there was a touchdown and it was approaching Greensburg.
“It seemed like forever, we just sat around and went down into the basement and started listening to the scanner,” he said. “I was thinking that it wasn’t going to hit and then they started to count down the miles. When it got within five miles of town, they said to shut down the highway at Haviland and Mullinville and not let anyone through. That’s when I figured it was going to hit, they’d never done that before.”
“I remember Eric asked John, my stepdad, what we were supposed to do if it hit. He said ‘I guess we just sit here.’ When it hit we quickly changed our minds,” said Naumann.
At 9:41 p.m. as an EF5 tornado, estimated to be 1.7 miles wide with winds in excess of 205 mph, blew over their house, Peters and the rest of the family took cover under a coffee table.
Page 2 of 3 - “Everyone piled on top of me,” said Naumann. “I just remember hoping it would be over soon, it seemed like it lasted forever. There was a door that went up into the garage from the basement. It sounded like something was going to come through that door.”
“It sounded like a helicopter outside the house, like the blades were hitting on the walls,” said Peters. “I looked up at the ceiling [of the basement] just waiting for it to leave. I was wondering what I was going to hang onto when the ceiling leaves. The ceiling stayed and we got lucky there.”
After the tornado had passed, the expectant parents drove through town to see if their house was still standing. “We didn’t have a clue about the rest of town. I thought they were just exaggerating, I thought it couldn’t be that bad.”
An estimated 95 percent of homes and businesses in Greensburg had been destroyed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated total damage of about $268 million dollars. Eleven people in Greensburg and two residents of Pratt County died. There were more than 60 injuries to Greensburg residents reported.
After removing a basketball hoop and debris from the hood of their truck, they drove out to U.S. 183 on the west side of town, the only place they could get cell phone reception, and asked family members to come pick them up and bring them to Hutchinson, where Peters’ parents lived.
“I was having contractions about 9 minutes apart and they kept that way until about 8 p.m. the next day. I never told my mom and I never said anything to Eric until we got to Hutchinson,” she said. “There was so many distractions, nobody noticed. Eric’s mom was the first one that noticed. When I was sitting in the car on our way to Hutchinson, I kept flipping my phone open to check the time, so she figured it out, but she didn’t say anything. When we pulled up to the house I told him that he should get some sleep because we’d be going to the hospital soon.”
Brett Peters was born on Sunday May 6, 2007 at 5:31 a.m., less than 48 hours after the tornado struck Greensburg. He was the first child born to Greensburg residents after the tornado.
Now turning 5 years old, the preschool aged boy, who will be forever associated with one of the largest tornados in recorded history, is a happy, healthy kid sharing time with his mother, who has since moved to Coldwater and his father, who lives in Greensburg.
“He’s asked some questions,” said Peters. “He freaks out anytime there is a cloud in the sky. He thinks there is going to be a tornado. He’s seen a lot of pictures. When he goes to bed at night he sees the CO2 and smoke detectors and he wonders why we don’t have a tornado detector.”
Page 3 of 3 - When asked what type of town would they like to see on Brett’s 20th birthday, both parents seem a bit cynical but hopeful.
“I’d like to see it more like it was before,” said Naumann. “I understand that it blew away and it can’t be that same town that it was, but it was a community based on community. Now it’s a community based on a disaster. There have been some good things that have happened, but it’s not Greensburg anymore.”
“Hopefully there is an opportunity for him here to stay and have a job,” said Peters. “Hopefully it grows a little, although I don’t want it to grow like some of the leaders say. I don’t particularly want it to be the size of Pratt or Dodge. I hope it isn’t like that. Everyone lived here because it was small, if they wanted to live in Pratt or Dodge, they’d move there.”
With many in the community looking to Brett and other local children like him to rebuild Greensburg and be a big part of the future of the community, the soft-spoken boy with the vivid imagination is blissfully unaware of the hopefully expectations projected onto him by town leaders and residents.
“I want a shotgun,” said Brett when asked what he wanted for his birthday in between bites from a candy bar. “I want to go out into the country and shoot bears.”