Iraq war hampers tornado recovery

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - A shortage of trucks, helicopters and other equipment -- all sent to the war in Iraq -- has hampered recovery in a U.S. town obliterated by a tornado, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said on Monday.

A rescue worker checks her camera after taking photos of the devastation in Greensburg, Kansas, May 6, 2007. REUTERS/Dave Kaup

“There is no doubt at all that this will slow down and hamper the recovery,” Sebelius, a Democrat, told Reuters in Kansas where officials said the statewide death toll had risen to 12 on Monday.

“Not having this equipment in place all over the state is a huge handicap,” Sebelius said.

The tornado that devastated Greensburg, 110 miles west of Wichita, started a weekend of violent weather in Kansas, a state in the heart of the central United States region known as “Tornado Alley.”

Ten died in Greensburg, a town of 1,600 people. An 11th died in nearby Pratt County and a 12th in a separate tornado in Ottawa County.

The twisters were accompanied by widespread flooding on Sunday and Monday that required more than 200 water rescues and closed many roads and shuttered several schools in another part of the state.

“We’re getting pounded in Kansas. We have the need for National Guard in two different parts of our state now. This is really going to be a problem,” Sebelius said.

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Sebelius and other Democratic governors earlier this year assailed the Republican Bush administration for the strains they said the war had placed on their states’ National Guardsmen, frequently mobilized for state emergencies.

On Monday, anti-war groups, including the National Security Network and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq cited the shortage of equipment to deal with the Kansas disaster as the latest example of what they see as the war’s detrimental impact on domestic security.


A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said other states were supposed to help provide resources in an emergency. White House spokesman Tony Snow said the administration was doing what it could and equipment would arrive if it was needed.

Kansas Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said because of the shortage of National Guard equipment, the state was rushing to hire contractors to help clear debris.

Nearly 70 Kansas National Guard troops were arriving in Greensburg on Monday to supplement about 40 troops already on the ground, and some guard Humvees were available to start clearing wreckage, Watson said.

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Sebelius said the failure by Washington to replace or return state National Guard equipment deployed to Iraq was “not a very satisfying effort.”

The governor said Kansas lacked about half the large equipment it could use for recovery efforts and debris removal, including dump trucks and front loaders. More than 20 percent of its Humvees and 15 of 19 helicopters were sent to Iraq, the governor said.

The National Weather Service said the twister that hit Greensburg on Friday about 9:45 p.m. was an F5, the highest on the scale. With winds of 205 mph (330 kph), it stayed on the ground about an hour, traveling 22 miles and wreaking a path of destruction nearly 2 miles wide.

“It’s been one of the most destructive tornadoes in the last 10 years,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Gerard.