GREENSBURG, Kansas – The songbirds sound content and at peace. Their harmony suggests that they've adapted well to recent circumstances.
But their tune seems illogical, considering that every tree in Greensburg, Kan., seems to be stripped of its leaves and small branches. The trees look beaten and soulless, as if a good kick would put them on their sides and finish off the misery first inflicted by Friday's killer tornado.
But these observations seem to be subtleties best made by outsiders. For the nearly 1,500 residents of Greensburg, the necessity of survival dominates the thought process.
"I thought I'd lost them," recounted Chris Coss, his eyes bleary and sagging from a lack of sleep.
However, his arms are taut as he held one hand firmly around a bundle more precious than any material possession he lost in the tornado: his 9-month-old son Jaden. With the other hand, he held his girlfriend and Jaden's mother, Kelsey Schroth, close.
On Friday night, Coss was in his pickup truck racing south towards town on Highway 183 as he struggled to talk with Schroth on his cell phone, the twister barreling towards both of them at a speed exceeding 200 mph.
"I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die," Schroth screamed into the line, seconds before it went dead and Coss' pickup sailed off the road from the force of the violent wind.
"All I could concentrate on was holding on to Jaden," Schroth recalled, as the tornado ripped her home to splinters and stripped the diaper clean off Jaden's body. "I heard the walls cracking."
At about the same time, Brandon Hosheit was huddled in a cramped, dank storm cellar with his wife Stacey, his children Gage and Allie, and about a half dozen neighbors.
Rain and hail pelted Greensburg with such intensity that a steady stream of water poured into the depths of his cellar. Two days later, a puddle several inches deep still covered the cool cement floor.
"This cellar saved my family's life," Hosheit said. "It's the best room in my house."
Right now, it's the only room in the Hosheit home. There are very few rooms left intact in the town.
"This is their Katrina, without the water" is the characterization that came to the mind of Staff Sgt. Jeff Nicholson of the Kansas Air National Guard.
Even to the battle-tested members of America's armed forces, who have been dispatched multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, the devastation in Greensburg is tremendous.
There are no longer any churches in Greensburg. No schools. No businesses in the commercial district. And yet, somehow, there is boundless optimism and a strong determination to rebuild.
The mayor of Greensburg, Lonnie McCollum, said he's been living in the front seat of his friend's pickup since Friday.
"This town owes it to our historical roots and what we have here to rebuild," stressed the folksy McCollum, his head covered at the day's first press conference by a patriotic red-white-and-blue ball cap.
"It'll be nice folks, everybody's gonna want to live in a brand new town."
Coss said he'll come back if there's a new Greensburg.
"For the second time, I've been given a godsend," Coss said with a smile as he tightly held Jaden. Around them, the songbirds chirped away, uninterrupted.