UMCOR Trained Early Response Teams Assist in Texas
By Susan J. Meister*
December 22, 2008—Early Response Teams (ERTs) trained by the United Methodist Committee on Relief have come from near and far to begin the clean up and rebuilding process for survivors of Hurricane Ike in southeast Texas.
Don Anderson, the team leader of the Minnesota Conference ERT, explained, "We came from the 'other end of the river.'" When the Texas Annual Conference put out a call for help after Ike roared through in September, nine volunteers from seven different Minnesota churches brought their trailer and skills to Anahuac and Smith Point. While the Minnesota team worked on homes in the area off Trinity Bay, three ERTs from Christ UMC in Plano, TX, rolled into Orange.
"Early Response Teams are a critical part of the United Methodist response after a disaster," stated the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive. "These teams provide an important Christian presence in the early days after a disaster as they help prevent further damage by tarping, doing debris removal, and cleaning flooded homes."
"We get them [homes] to the point where others can work," added Anderson.
Angela Baker, director of Disaster Recovery (Beaumont, TX), says that they have been blessed with 39 teams from 13 states, with 16 more teams scheduled in December. The majority are ERTs. "And January-March  is overflowing with teams, praise God," she said.
Kathie Mann, director of Partners in Mission for the Texas Conference, reports team visits for the Houston/Galveston area. "On our calendar, we have had over 87 teams from 31 conferences," she said. She suspects that the number is much higher. "Many teams went directly out to damaged churches and worked in the field for weeks and so we might not have that information in our database," Ms. Mann continued.
Minnesota Team Finds 'Dry Floor' at Anahuac UMC
During a lunch break from gutting and power washing, Mr. Anderson explained that the Minnesota ERT trailer, one of two in the conference, has been in use for seven years. "When Heather (Klason, conference disaster coordinator) gets a call, we put together a trained team," he said. "We are totally self-sufficient with tools, cots, tents and more. We like to stay in churches with dry floors and a shower is solid gold!"
During this eleven day trip in November, the team stayed at Anahuac UMC, where a new shower trailer added the 'gold.' Wayne Hankamer, a church member who is active in the hurricane response, was grateful to receive the team. He expects that fifty volunteers at a time could be housed in the fellowship hall.
"People are coming to the Mid-Chambers Christian Caring Center to ask for help," Mr. Hankamer said. "We have a large rural area, very spread out. And some need a lot of help and are too proud to ask." Disaster Recovery, Beaumont (formerly Rita Recovery), will help with family advocacy and intake to identify and help hurricane survivors.
Plano Teams Work in Orange
In nearby Orange, Disaster Recovery construction supervisor Dan Kirk consulted with the first of three teams from Christ UMC, Plano. The six team members donned masks and hats to begin removing wood floors from the flooded home. The smell of mold was nearly overpowering.
Penny Mitchell, a student at Perkins Theological Seminary, wheeled loads of ruined floor to a debris pile in front of the house. "I do this because I just want to bless people," she said.
The area around Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur is still recovering from damage from Hurricane Rita, which blew through just three years before. The disaster recovery office in Beaumont is extending its work to include response to Hurricane Ike, and will reach west to help in Chambers County.
UMCOR Training Available
ERT training is just one part of a suite of training events available from the Emergency Services Office of UMCOR. Experienced UMCOR consultants conduct training at the invitation of conference leadership. The ERT effort is a cooperative effort between UMCOR and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM).
"We give thanks that God has raised up UMCOR and UMVIM to coordinate and strengthen the servant leadership of the church for US Disaster Response," reads the Covenant agreement between the two groups. "Since both UMCOR and UMVIM have the same goal of serving the most vulnerable people affected by disaster, (we seek) to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ as we reach out to those in need."
Meister is Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR