After Tornadoes, a Light of Hope
By Linda Unger*
After some 200 tornadoes tore through the US South at the end of last week, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is working with annual conferences to assess damages, convene volunteers, and extend the light of Easter hope across a ravaged landscape.
In North Carolina, UMCOR disaster consultant Barbara Tripp helped the annual conference establish a call center at Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives (MERCI), the conference's disaster response center and relief-supply depot. The call center gives those in need a way to connect with a helping hand, and the conference a way to summon volunteers.
Tripp, a native of Raleigh, says that North Carolina disaster response teams are used to cleaning up after a twister."It's not unusual to have a tornado touch down and do a little damage," she said,"but to have a whole string of them doing a lot of damage—that's unique here."
The North Carolina governor's office said on Wednesday that with assessments completed in 10 of 18 affected counties, it has so far counted 6,189 homes destroyed or that suffered major damage in the storm.
The call center at MERCI, whose relief-supply depot is part of the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network, has set up an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for inquiries and volunteers, including early response teams, recovery teams, and individuals to answer the phones.
Rick Hill, also an UMCOR disaster response consultant and a North Carolina native, is working with Tripp and the North Carolina Conference to assess damages. Because the state was hit so hard by the storm, which spawned 92 tornadoes there, UMCOR is also calling on Southeastern Jurisdiction's Volunteers in Mission "J-Team" to organize volunteers for immediate needs and the long haul of recovery.
The "J-Team," or Jurisdictional Team, is a small group of volunteers selected by a jurisdiction VIM office specifically to set up the management of volunteers in a disaster situation, especially one as complex as this. The team coordinates with annual conference disaster response personnel and UMCOR staff and consultants as they put response mechanisms in place.
From Thursday, April 14, through Saturday, a massive storm system raced through the following eight states—Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The storm killed at least 45 people, injured hundreds, and caused millions of dollars in damages.
By Tuesday, UMCOR had supplied emergency grants to four conferences with severe damage—North Carolina, Alabama-West Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia. The grants will help the conferences assess needs and respond.
"UMCOR emergency grants allow us to be immediately connectional and to remain that way," said Rev. Wayne Napier, disaster response coordinator for the Mississippi Conference, where four counties suffered substantial damage and 16 others were impacted by the storm.
Napier said the UMCOR funds will be instrumental in all phases of response and recovery. The grant covers the conference's costs related to fuel and other expenses of the assessment phase, as well as costs related to equipment rental, maintenance, purchase, and operation for debris removal.
The emergency grant funds will help the conference establish the logistics of processing and assigning work projects related to rehabilitation and to case management of families affected by the disaster. The funds will also help the conference prepare more volunteers to respond to future emergencies.
Napier underscored the importance of recent contributions in the Mississippi Conference to One Great Hour of Sharing, which underwrites UMCOR's costs of doing business and allows UMCOR to use one hundred percent of all other donations for emergencies such as this one.
Just the Beginning
UMCOR US Disaster Response executive, Rev. Tom Hazelwood, underscored that this storm, along with Red River flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota, and tornadoes a week earlier in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin, are just the beginning of the spring storm season."We could be in for a very busy spring," he said.
Residents of the Upper Midwest are currently experiencing flooding for the third year in a row. More than two-thirds of North Dakota has been declared a federal disaster area, including seven counties and five tribal nations. The Red River is expected to crest on Easter Sunday.
And last weekend's storm in the South also brought severe, if seemingly less dramatic, weather to the Northeast, especially to New Jersey, where as many as 400 homes experienced flood damage. Some families said it was the third time in six months that their homes had been inundated.
Despite the damages and casualties in North Carolina, Barbara Tripp said, radio airwaves were filled with people calling in to say how grateful they were to be alive and to see so many volunteers already at work."People who were strangers in the morning have become fast friends by noon," she said.
That the consequences of this particular storm are becoming clearer as we go deeper into Holy Week only underscores the Easter mystery, Hazelwood pointed out."Holy Week is focused on the passion of Christ at the same time that it points toward his resurrection," he said."There is reason to hope."
Cleaning buckets provide the supplies that enable people affected by storms, floods, or other emergencies to begin the overwhelming task of cleaning up. They can be shipped to any of the relief-supply depots in the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network.
Click here to download a church bulletin insert on the storm that raged through the South. Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, enables UMCOR to respond effectively—to be there, be hope for people in need.
*Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.