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'Our Town Has Lost Its Obscurity'

UMCOR Walks With East Kentuckians on the Road to Tornado Recovery

By Susan Kim*

March 13, 2012 — Whenever she stepped out of her house in West Liberty, KY, Lori Keeton could always count on a view of the West Liberty United Methodist Church, its steeple gracing the town's horizon against a backdrop of mountains.

That view changed forever for Keeton and hundreds of others on March 2, when tornadoes destroyed not only the church, but also flattened houses and businesses in Kentucky and several other southern and Midwest states.

“Our town has lost its obscurity,” said Keeton, a member of the West Liberty United Methodist Church and a high school guidance counselor. “I always saw this stuff on TV when it was happening to someone else. I never thought it would happen here.”

As Keeton's 5-year-old daughter asked if God or the devil caused the tornado, Keeton spoke for many when she said, “Honey, it just happened.”

Tornadoes hardly ever happen in eastern Kentucky. Five days after the disaster, hundreds of stunned residents from the 3,500-person town gathered at a town meeting in the damaged but still standing middle school. Outside, bulldozers and cranes were still clearing rubble from the streets.

As the townspeople bowed their heads and prayed for strength together, Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response, assured tornado survivors that United Methodists and others from all over the world were praying for them. “We are a big family and we are sending our love and our care,” he said. “God is with all of us in this.”

In eastern Kentucky, where adequate housing was a challenge for many people even before the storms struck, many residents are under-insured, said Jim Morse, disaster response coordinator for the Kentucky Annual Conference.

“Our focus will be on long-term recovery,” he said. “After people receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from their insurance, we will be seeing a lot of unmet needs. We would like to see a permanent long-term recovery group that includes churches, voluntary groups, and government officials.”

UMCOR has provided a $10,000 emergency grant to the Kentucky Annual Conference for tornado response. Grants have also been made to the Holston, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and West Ohio annual conferences.

Your support for US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, Tornadoes 2012, helps United Methodist churches and volunteers respond not only to today's needs in tornado-affected states but also to long-term unmet needs that will linger long after the story leaves the headlines. Online Giving

You can also help by providing cleaning buckets, a valuable resource to those whose homes have been thrown into disorder by storm or flood. To learn more, please click here

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to