Digging Into Recovery
By Linda Unger*
October 12, 2011—Although the images of last spring’s devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere in Alabama have faded from television screens around the country, the “hard work of long-term recovery” is just getting underway in the North Alabama Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
That effort, which will take years to complete, will count on the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), whose board of directors voted yesterday to support the North Alabama Conference with a two-year recovery grant of $1 million.
“Most of the grant will go toward helping families rebuild or repair their homes,” said UMCOR US Disaster Response executive, the Rev. Tom Hazelwood. “It also will provide funding for conference staff whose job it will be to move the whole recovery program forward,” he indicated.
Last spring, a record 62 tornadoes, three of them EF-5s, the most intense, roared through Alabama in a single day. The tornadoes stretched 1,177 miles long and more than 20 miles wide, causing more than 20,000 square miles of damage in the state.
In all, the tornadoes, which touched down in both the morning and the afternoon, damaged or totally destroyed 37,202 buildings, more than 23,500 of them homes. They left an estimated $1.1 billion in damages across the state.
More than 70 UMCOR-trained early response teams poured into the conference in the days immediately following the disaster, reported North Alabama Annual Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Nancy Cole.
When it is safe to do so, Hazelwood said, the teams “come in and clean up. Their role is to make the place—if there’s any place left—safe, sanitary, and secure. Sometimes they’re just cleaning up an empty lot, where a house once stood,” he said.
In the months since the April 27 tornadoes, he added, survivors “worked through the process of finding out what their insurance will cover and what assistance they’re due from government sources. The church identified the most vulnerable people they need to work with.” All of that takes time.
“So, first there’s this flurry of activity and then there’s this lull. But now what I call the real hard work of long-term recovery begins,” Hazelwood indicated.
The UMCOR grant will provide the North Alabama Annual Conference with the tools it needs so that it can help at least 2,000 families return or relocate to safe and secure homes. Those tools include case management training, case managers, and mechanisms for coordinating volunteers, among others.
Single parents with minor children in the home; large families for whom the usual financial aid will not suffice, persons with disabilities, and vulnerable elderly persons will be the most likely beneficiaries of the conference’s recovery work.
In addition to the North Alabama grant, the UMCOR board of directors also approved a $100,000 grant for the Tennessee Annual Conference to help it continue to assist survivors of the 2010 floods that severely impacted homes, schools, businesses, and infrastructures in all of its seven districts.
“The Tennessee Conference has done an outstanding job of working with other groups to meet the needs of the families affected by the storms,” Hazelwood underscored.
This new grant will help the conference continue to develop and resource community-based Long-term Recovery Committees (LTRC), facilitate UMCOR case management training, rebuild or repair homes, and provide resources for storm-related unmet needs such as medical and moving costs.
Just before the UMCOR directors gathered, a third request came in from the Dakotas Annual Conference for assistance responding to record floods last spring. Snowpack in Montana created flood conditions up and down the conference, and the Souris River overflowed its banks for the first time in 100 years, damaging or destroying more than 3,000 homes.
The UMCOR directors approved a two-year grant in the amount of $463,000 to help the Dakotas Conference put staff in place to respond to families whose homes were ravaged by the floodwaters.
“It’s important that people know that as we fund these grants, it’s the people of The United Methodist Church who have given of their resources to help their sisters and brothers who are hurting to recover from these disasters,” Hazelwood said. “I’ve been real pleased to see the ways our church reaches out both financially and by people giving of themselves as volunteers in these communities.
“UMCOR’s grant is a representation of that commitment and love that goes from those people sitting in the pews out to those who are hurting in these various communities. And UMCOR will do all that we can to help,” Hazelwood said.
*Linda Unger is UMCOR’s senior writer and staff editor.