UMCOR Underscores Commitment to Storm-ravaged South
By Linda Unger*
April 29, 2011—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) underscored today its “absolute commitment” to communities that have been impacted by this year’s historic spring storm season, even though the organization’s US Disaster Response funds are extraordinarily tight.
“We are absolutely committed to walk alongside the annual conferences, local churches and communities that are hurting because of these storms,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive for US Disaster Response. “We are absolutely committed to be there with them.”
Already, UMCOR has sent a dozen emergency grants to annual conferences affected by the storms which have charged through the South this spring. UMCOR is responding to requests from six of those conferences for immediate training in early response to disasters and the spiritual and emotional care of those affected.
The storms have been remarkable this year for their breadth, intensity, and relentlessness. Eighteen states, from as far west as Texas to as far north as New York and Michigan, experienced tornado activity between April 21 and 28.
Southern states were hardest hit when a super-cell storm blundered through the region on April 27. One news report said that some of the tornadoes it spawned may have packed winds up to 300 miles per hour.
With at least 213 deaths, hundreds injured, and countless families homeless, Alabama took the brunt of that storm system, which left a total of at least 300 people dead across six states: Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia. A million people were without electrical power.
That storm followed on the heels of another system that stampeded through eight southern states. It particularly impacted parts of North Carolina, when 92 tornadoes tore through that state on a single day.
Disaster Response Funds Perilously Low
But after years of relatively mild spring storm seasons and heightened priorities provoked by “super disasters” elsewhere in the world, funds destined for UMCOR’s US Disaster Response ministry are perilously low.
The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, UMCOR head, appealed to United Methodists and other people of goodwill, who are the source of these funds, to help replenish them and ensure UMCOR’s ability to continue to respond to the spring storms emergency.
“I have no doubt that the people of the United Methodist Church will respond just as they always have, whether it is to an earthquake in Haiti or Japan, a hurricane in the Gulf, or widespread tornadoes and storms such as these,” she indicated. “People always respond to great need.”
US Disaster Response funds allow UMCOR to be present from the very start of an emergency until long after it has faded from headlines. “Funds go to everything from disaster response training to spiritual and emotional care to the purchasing of boards and nails,” Hazelwood said.
As recovery progresses, he said, the funds help in the repairing and rebuilding of homes and the provision of case management, “that one-on-one ministry with affected families” Hazelwood explained.
“We train people to do that,” he added, “so communities know how to work with their brothers and sisters who have been impacted by disasters.”
Because US Disaster Response funds were so tight, UMCOR delved into a small reserve in order to respond to the spring storms emergency. Harvey said she had the approval of the organization’s board of directors grant committee within an hour of contacting them.
“Their response illustrates the commitment of UMCOR and its board to respond at times when people face great need one way or another” she said.
“Yes, money is tight,” Hazelwood said. “But we’re going to find ways to respond, one way or another. We’re absolutely committed to walk alongside those who are hurting. We can do no less.”
*Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.