Early Response Teams Secure Homes After Tornadoes in South Carolina and Georgia
By Susan J. Meister*
NEW YORK, April 4, 2008—UMCOR-trained Early Response Teams (ERTs) were busy with tarps and chain saws across a wide region of North Georgia and South Carolina in the week following severe storm systems that moved through on March 15.
Billy Robinson, South Carolina United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) Disaster Coordinator, reported that seventeen tornadoes moved across his state late that afternoon. “We were in the early response phase for a solid week,” he reported. “A total of 104 major acts of Christian love in action were performed by UMVIM ERT teams, including roof tarps, cutting and clearing debris, and more to make the salvageable homes safe, sanitary and secure.”
ERT teams took trailers of equipment into the affected areas to work hand-in-hand with local church volunteers, the Red Cross, emergency management services and local fire and police departments to execute a coordinated response. South Carolina conference also deployed persons to do Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), providing spiritual and emotional care to those affected.
“I thank God that God equipped us to help others in their time of need in Christ’s name,” continued Robinson. “People had tears in their eyes after seeing our outpouring of love and care.”
Protocol between UMCOR and UMVIM working well
Southeast Jurisdiction UMVIM Executive Director Nick Elliot reported that the recent protocol agreed to by UMCOR and UMVIM worked very well. Under the arrangement, an individual annual conference is responsible for local response to a disaster, unless the conference determines it requires outside assistance. In this case, South Carolina requested additional ERTs through the Southeast Jurisdiction UMVIM office, and a call went out to Western North Carolina and North Carolina.
In neighboring Georgia, conference disaster response coordinator Mike Yoder reported that chain saw and clean up teams worked in devastated residential areas about thirty blocks away from downtown Atlanta, where the storms also did extensive damage to commercial buildings.
Updates to the North Georgia Disaster Response website (www.ngdisasterresponse.org) tracked progress in that conference. Rev. Mike Selleck, Director of Connectional Ministries, wrote on March 17, “What possibly may be put on the back burner are the homes and neighborhoods that suffered just as much devastation, but aren’t on the economic scale of downtown Atlanta. These are the areas that United Methodist volunteers, and other organizations of similar stripe, are needed now and into the foreseeable future.”
Early Response will move to long term recovery
“I am very thankful to God that we made it through the disaster without anyone being seriously injured, for the many work teams of all denominations, relief agencies, good city, count and state government action, volunteer and paid fire departments who quickly sprang into action,” Robinson exclaimed. “It is the churches and volunteers that really make the big difference.
“Now we can move to the recovery/rebuild phase to continue to help people in need,” he continued.
“Now the conferences will begin the process of assessment for long term recovery with continued help from UMCOR,” agreed Tom Hazelwood, executive for UMCOR’s domestic disaster response. “Our partners will move to their next specialty – finding and assisting the most vulnerable in their communities.”
As assessments are completed, volunteers will be needed to help with rebuilding. Interested persons can contact their jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission coordinator for more information. Financial gifts can be made to UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response to support UMCOR’s disaster response here and across the US.
* Meister is the Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR