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USDA Rural Development Team Steps Forward to Assist a Tornado-Damaged Kansas Community

The Reading Grain & Lumber Company facility, an important source of local employment, was heavily damaged by the tornado.

The Reading Grain & Lumber Company facility, an important source of local employment, was heavily damaged by the tornado.

Weather-related disasters have plagued the United States this spring and the rebuilding efforts appear daunting.  The same weekend that Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by an EF5 tornado, Reading, Kansas, a rural town with a population of 250 was struck by an EF3 tornado.  The scale of the damage in Reading is not comparable to Joplin in terms of dollars, numbers of homes and businesses damaged, or in lives lost.  But the damage in the eyes of each individual and family is equal when you talk to displaced residents of either community.

After the disaster, a team from USDA Rural Development in Kansas met with city and county officials to offer assistance, explain programs and provide assurance and comfort where we could.

The Meek family lost their home to an EF3 tornado that hit Reading, Kan., on May 21, 2011.  This stone marker is all that’s left.

The Meek family lost their home to an EF3 tornado that hit Reading, Kan., on May 21, 2011. This stone marker is all that’s left.

Traveling into Reading the first signs of damage were the trees stripped of bark and limbs, as well as debris scattered across acres of newly planted corn fields miles from the town. The town’s water tower stands tall and undamaged, but only a block away the home of the Meek’s family was so decimated all that remains is a vacant lot and the limestone marker bearing the family’s name.  Houses now bear spray-painted “X’s” and other code marks that denote structural integrity or need for demolition.  The town’s major employer, a grain elevator, is now a twisted pile of metal.

Besides a weather-inflicted scar, both Joplin and Reading share another common thread – resilience.  Shortly after the tornado, Reading T-ball teams took the field for a game and next weekend Reading intends to host its annual Alumni Banquet.  Both events are a nod to normalcy flying in the face of upheaval and demonstrate the resolve to rebuild their community.

USDA Rural Development State Director Patty Clark tours the city of Reading with local officials to assess the damage after the May 21 tornado.  In the background is a pile of debris from the Reading Post Office (right), which was destroyed by the tornado.

USDA Rural Development State Director Patty Clark tours the city of Reading with local officials to assess the damage after the May 21 tornado. In the background is a pile of debris from the Reading Post Office (right), which was destroyed by the tornado.

Steps forward will come slowly – but Reading still plans to hold its annual community fish fry in a couple of weeks.  We agreed that would be a great opportunity to meet with homeowners individually to explain Rural Development programs so USDA plans to host a home fair just prior to the fish fry.  Reading’s mayor greeted the idea enthusiastically but told us not to expect fish.  All of the fish had been stored in home freezers and can’t be used so there will be hamburgers and hot dogs instead.  The food really doesn’t matter – the community gathering does.

USDA offers programs to assist rural Americans as they work to recover in the aftermath of a disaster.  For more information click here.

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