SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It’s rare that an entire city is wiped out by a natural disaster. Rebuilding efforts will not be quick but other cities in the country have done it, even if it’s taken several years.
“How do you start your life over from nothing?” said Stacy Barnes, who lives in Greensburg, Kansas.
Cities from coast to coast have all been touched by Mother Nature at some point. But few have been decimated wiped out like Paradise, California. A Butte County historian told CBS13 she can’t recall seeing this kind of destruction in her lifetime.
“This is going to be extremely difficult,” said Brock Long, a FEMA Administrator. “When you have total losses like Paradise, you have to concentrate on helping communities bringing back the infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, you can’t rebuild businesses and you can’t support those who have homes left or those with temporary homes.”
In a town of just 18 square miles, more than 12,000 structures have been destroyed and 71 people have died.
Seeing the images of the disaster in Paradise, Barnes can’t help but think about her own tragedy in 2007.
“I stood right in the middle of town and I looked around and you could see this destruction everywhere,” she said. “It’s still hard to believe.”
Her hometown of Greensburg, Kansas was hit by an EF5 tornado measuring 1.7 miles wide. The same size as the entire city. Twelve people died and 90% of the homes were gone.
“Virtually the whole town was destroyed!” Barnes said.
Including her parents’ home. She says she was committed to helping her town rebuild. Now she serves as Greensburg’s tourism director.
“This definitely had an effect on our community in every way,” Barnes said. “We still have some empty lots around town.”
Now 11 years later, many stores, homes and city buildings are back but the population never recovered. It stood at 1200 in 2007 and now it’s just around 900 people. Many retired couples decided to start fresh somewhere else.
It’s a similar story in a southern Louisiana community after the Bayou Corne sinkhole forced 350 people to evacuate in 2012. Today, just a dozen people remain.
Barnes encourages the people of Paradise to rise to the challenge and help start a new chapter in their own history book.
“I have two kids who are 7 and 8 years old and they don’t know it before, they just know the Greensburg now and it’s just home to them,” she said.
In Kansas, there’s still a need for more housing and parks. But Barnes says there is good news on the other side of the Greensburg: They have a town with new infrastructure and they’re slowly attracting new, young families to move in.