UMCOR Keeps Promise to Storm Survivors
By Linda Unger*
May 26, 2011—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is keeping its promise to stand with tornado, storm, and flood survivors, who this spring have experienced historic challenges.
In less than eight weeks, UMCOR has disbursed about a quarter-of-a-million dollars in emergency grants to 15 United Methodist annual conferences across the United States; most are in the South and Midwest, where many of the storms have struck and survivors seek to piece their lives back together.
In that same period, more than 9,300 cleaning buckets have been shipped to devastated areas from depots of the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network, including from Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, which, like other communities along the Mississippi River this spring, is itself still at risk of floods.
Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR’s US Disaster Response executive, reiterated today that UMCOR remains firm in its “absolute commitment to walk alongside these annual conferences, these local churches and communities” that have been affected by this spring’s severe weather.
“We absolutely will be there with them,” he said, even as he noted that funding for US Disaster Response, specifically the 2011 Spring Storms Emergency Advance, remains very low.
Hazelwood offered his remarks from Joplin, Missouri, where he is visiting for the second time since an EF5 tornado tore through the town last Sunday. At least 125 people died, 750 people were taken to area hospitals, and some 5,000 homes and other buildings were destroyed in the disaster, according to news reports.
Hazelwood’s presence in Joplin is an expression of support for the survivors of the twister and for the Missouri Annual Conference as its disaster response team assesses the damages and the needs the storm provoked. The May 22 tornado in Joplin is now considered the most destructive on record.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase, in a letter to the United Methodist Council of Bishops, noted that “Tom Hazelwood from UMCOR was on the ground in Joplin within 24 hours” of the tornado’s touch-down.
“It’s part of UMCOR’s mandate, as an organization, to be the relief and development arm of the church, and we want to be present,” Hazelwood said of Joplin and other areas where UMCOR staff have been, such as North Carolina and Alabama, in the immediate aftermath of devastating storms this spring.
From Joplin, Hazelwood will travel this afternoon to Sedalia, Missouri, where another tornado touched down last night and damaged or destroyed homes and injured at least 15 people.
Since early April, storms, tornadoes, record flooding, and wildfires have fanned out across the United States, affecting particularly the South and Midwest. Hazelwood called the 2011 spring storm season “extraordinary.”
More usually, he said, “you see the normal thunder storms and some tornadoes, but nothing, nothing like the number of deadly tornadoes and destructive storms we’re seeing this year” which are being blamed for more than 500 deaths and damages calculated in the billions of dollars.
In the wake of a severe weather event, UMCOR’s US Disaster Response team provides presence, consultation, emergency grants, and training in early response to disasters and in the provision of spiritual and emotional care to survivors.
Further down the road, Hazelwood said, UMCOR helps rebuild and repair homes and provides training in case management, “so the communities can know how to work with their sisters and brothers who have been affected by the storms.”
With so many weather events that have been so destructive this spring, and with the 2011 hurricane season looming, UMCOR is facing its own historic challenge to raise sufficient funds in order to be present where needed, not only in the wake of storm or flood but over the long haul of recovery.
Even as he thanked all who had so generously given to the Missouri Conference for its disaster response efforts, Bishop Schnase appealed in his letter to his fellow bishops to “lift up the UMCOR Spring Storms appeal.
“Funds at UMCOR are extraordinarily low right now, and this severely limits our capacity to act quickly and effectively during times of tragedy. Your help is appreciated,” Bishop Schnase wrote.
*Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.