Church Looks to Pinpoint Iowa Flood Relief Response
By Arthur McClanahan*
DES MOINES, Iowa, June 19, 2008 (UMNS)–As waters began to recede in central Iowa and the shock of a second “500-year flood” in 15 years became a numbing reality, the focus was shifting from the rescue phase to relief and long-term recovery.
United Methodists are among a statewide interfaith consortium and action teams from local churches that are reaching out to the estimated 38,000 people left homeless, farmers who have lost a projected 10 percent of the 2008 corn crop and countless churches and parsonages inundated from the ravages of nine rivers.
Bishop Gregory Palmer spent June 18 visiting clergy and surveying damage in the Cedar Rapids area, including Trinity, Salem and St. James United Methodist churches – all three of which have been partially underwater in the floods.
"The disruption caused by the floods is overwhelming, but the way in which people are pulling together in communities more than balances this out," said Palmer, of the church's Iowa Area. "The outpouring of tangible compassion from the church along with the resolve of local people to reclaim their lives is signaling hope … hope … hope."
Representatives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief are expected to tour Iowa by the first of next week to assess damage and formulate a response plan. UMCOR already has issued a $10,000 emergency grant to the conference to aid in responding to the May 25 tornadoes in Parkersburg.
Even as the water subsided from storms, flooding and tornadoes that have ravaged Iowa since May 25, more levees broke, and Des Moines' Birdland neighborhood, a low-income area near the Des Moines River, was flooded. In Cedar Rapids, the Cedar River was projected to continue to cover nearly 450 blocks of the state's second largest city well into the weekend.
In Iowa City, emergency measures were suspended when it became too dangerous to build up sandbag flood walls. At least 18 buildings on the University of Iowa campus were flooded, including the school’s major auditorium and its art museum.
Representatives of the United Methodist Iowa Annual (regional) Conference were among eight Christian groups networking to respond to emergency needs, and an ecumenical blog was set up at http://www.iowawaters.blogspot.com to share information. The Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council (IDHRC), which is an even broader interfaith coalition, was coordinating some of the first steps of the rescue response to complement efforts by the American Red Cross and Salvation Army in some of the hardest-hit areas.
Except for Iowa's Mississippi River areas, first-responders were invited beginning June 17 to support those returning to their homes for the first time since being evacuated. First United Methodist Church in Marion ramped up to serve as a host site for volunteer crews. As of June 18, teams from five states already had committed to assist in the Cedar Rapids area, according to the Rev. Mike Morgan, pastor of the Marion congregation.
Early response has included consoling residents who have lost many of their possessions. "This morning, about eight clergy went into the St. James United Methodist Church neighborhood about three hours after people were let into their homes. This was very necessary," Morgan said.
Marcia Young, the church's Iowa disaster relief coordinator, was working with Volunteers in Mission coordinator Susan Olive to mesh the services of the IDHRC and the long-term presence of UMCOR, particularly in equally hard-hit but lesser known areas such as Columbus Junction in southeast Iowa. There, a ministry action team already was in place to support the community's nearly 1,800 residents.
In Coralville, near Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, the Revs. Douglas E. Williams and Beverly Marshall-Goodell were coordinating crisis counseling by the area's faith leaders.
Coralville United Methodist Church received its first volunteers when 14 people from First United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan., stopped to help while en route to a mission trip in Wisconsin.
"I know the worst hasn't hit in (Iowa City) and Coralville. We're keeping (Cedar Rapids) in our prayers," Williams said in a blog entry.
Iowa United Methodists were invited to share their experiences and photographs from the storms and flooding at a blog site established at www.iowastorms2008.blogspot.com. Up-to-date information, photos, giving opportunities and ways to volunteer are being posted on the Iowa Annual (regional) Conference web site at www.iaumc.org/storms2008.
*McClanahan is director of communications for the Iowa Annual Conference.