UMCOR Responds to Spring Storms
By Susan J. Meister*
May 28, 2008—In less than a week, violent weather struck communities from the Rocky Mountains through the Upper Midwest. UMCOR is working with annual conference partners in Colorado, Iowa, and Minnesota to assist with cleanup efforts and to help survivors begin their recovery.
On Thursday, May 22, tornadoes swept through northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. The heaviest damage was in Windsor, about 60 miles north of Denver. On Sunday, May 25, more tornadoes touched down in counties in northeastern Iowa and in Hugo, Minnesota, near St. Paul. The affected annual conferences have been drawing on UMCOR training and ongoing UMCOR support to manage their immediate and long term response.
Rocky Mountain Conference responds
David Lillie, Rocky Mountain Annual Conference disaster response coordinator, has been working with pastor Linda Pelletier and others to respond to the tornado damage in Windsor. Pelletier, pastor of First United Methodist Church, is "plugging into" the disaster response and recovery system through Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (COVOAD), while at the same time addressing the nearly $100K damage to the church and parsonage.
Skip Strickland, Rocky Mountain Conference Director of Mission and Ministry, explains that the conference has been working for the last eighteen months to develop and refine their conference disaster response plan with the help of UMCOR consultant Gordon Knuckey. "We want to be strategically helpful to make a good response," Strickland said. "We are in touch with Linda and will be there to help families who fall through the cracks when long-term recovery begins. We want to work the plan."
Gary Haddock, who until the summer of 2007 was pastor at First UMC, Windsor, happened to be in town on the day of the tornado visiting his daughter. "It was painful to see the town that I love and where I served for thirteen years suffer such destruction," he said. "But it was so good to see that people were helping each other with whatever was needed."
Haddock stepped in immediately to help Pelletier navigate the disaster response system. He will take over for Lillie as Disaster Response Coordinator for the Conference on July 1.
On Monday, May 26, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Management Agency (FEMA) issued a disaster declaration for Colorado, which makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Larimer and Weld Counties.
Response still in earliest stages in Iowa, Minnesota
Damage in Iowa from the May 24th tornadoes was heaviest in the small town of Parkersburg, about thirty miles northwest of Waterloo. According to a letter from Bishop Gregory Palmer, some 400 homes were damaged, with 200 destroyed, including the United Methodist parsonage.
Palmer has requested and received a $10,000 emergency grant from UMCOR to support disaster response in Buchanan, Butler and Blackhawk Counties. Marcia Young, disaster response coordinator, reports that Iowa Conference responders will meet with other groups to assess needs at the Iowa Disaster Human Resources Council on Wednesday, May 28, in Des Moines. Young anticipates that grant funds will be used for case management and unmet needs as they are identified.
In Minnesota, UMCOR-trained Emergency Response Teams (ERT) are beginning debris removal in the area around Hugo, a St. Paul suburb. Disaster response coordinator Heather Klason reports that because they have the proper training, United Methodist and (Jewish) Nechama disaster teams are the only groups allowed in the affected area. Klason is supporting the ERTs and is helping to support the volunteer center. She estimates that fifty homes were destroyed and about 120 homes damaged in the St. Paul suburb.
UMCOR staff member Sandra Kennedy-Owes will remain in contact with the conferences to offer support and assistance as they move through the emergency phase and begin the long term response.
Record year for violent weather
Preliminary statistics from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center report 480 tornadoes in May, and 1,191 year-to-date. The severe weather is occurring at a much higher rate than the ten year average of 1,270 tornadoes.
Help the affected areas with your gifts to Domestic Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670. And please continue to pray for all survivors and those around the world who are dealing with the consequences of violent weather.
*Meister is Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR