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KS town starts long recovery

BY SUSAN KIM | HOISINGTON, KS | May 1, 2001


"The twister went from infant to monster in a few seconds."

—Cherri Baer


Ten days after a sudden tornado struck, people in the small town of Hoisington, KS are still newly discovering how devastating it was.

"We had a bad one," said Cherri Baer, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource facilitator who traveled to Hoisington to help guide long-term recovery. It was an F4 that the National Weather Service said went from infant to monster in a few seconds. They'd never seen anything like it."

The twister, which struck April 21, took two lives. It injured 28 people. It destroyed or damaged 45 percent of the homes in the town. And it raked over facilities this town needs every day: the high school, the only grocery store, the hospital.

One hundred eighty two homes were destroyed, 52 sustained major damage, and 392 had minor damage.

The town faces a long recovery, said Baer. "Three ministers lost their homes. For that reason, an interfaith committee may take longer to form."

Baer, who also represents United Methodist disaster response, is actively coordinating local volunteers. The Methodists are operating a food trailer that offers snacks and drinks to tornado survivors.

Lutheran Social Service of Kansas/Oklahoma is managing the work of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), with representatives providing pastoral care and support. An initial $10,000 grant has been provided by LDR to assist with emergency needs, and for cleanup and initial recovery efforts.

A local steering committee of area Lutheran pastors and insurance company representatives is functioning. Lutheran efforts will be coordinated through an emerging interfaith response.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) sent an initial $10,000 to help in the response. PDA representatives traveled to Hoisington to provide pastoral care and to work with the Presbytery of Southern Kansas and the First Presbyterian Church in Great Bend, an adjacent town.

Adventist Community Services (ACS) is also coordinating volunteers to help tornado survivors.

ACS opened a donated goods warehouse to distribute non-perishable food items, toiletries, canned goods, rakes, gloves, cleaning supplies, and other items storm survivors might need.

"As residents salvage their belongings and decide what they need, they can come to the donated goods warehouse where we'll give them the materials they need to get back on their feet," said John Treolo, communication and ACS director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kansas and Nebraska.

ACS is operating the warehouse in cooperation with the state emergency management agency.

More than two dozen students from Kansas-based Enterprise Adventist Academy combed the streets of the town distributing comfort kits of toiletry items to people in the affected areas.

Farmers found ready help when Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) coordinated student volunteers to remove debris from fields. MDS volunteers are also replacing damages roofs before future rainstorms cause further damage.

"Repair work is expected to continue for another week when MDS will reassess the needs of the community and take a second look at the length and depth of our involvement in this recovery," said Ted Houser, MDS spokesperson.

A volunteer Disaster Child Care (DCC) team traveled to the town, which is located about 90 miles southwest of Topeka, to offer childcare for families affected by the tornado. DCC is administered by Church of the Brethren and traveled to Hoisington under agreement with the American Red Cross.

Among denominational families hit hard by the April 21 tornado was the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). At least 15 homes of Disciples were either destroyed or damaged. Week of Compassion, a giving program coordinated by the Disciples, sent two grants totaling $5,500 to the First Christian Church of Hoisington and the nearby First Christian Church of Great Bend. The funds will go toward needs in those congregations and in the greater community.

Week of Compassion is also in discussion with CWS about forming a long- term interfaith recovery group.

Hoisington, located 100 miles northwest of Wichita, is home to about 3,100 people.

"A good part of the town is gone," Linda Reed Brown, interim director of domestic disaster response for CWS. CWS representatives traveled to Hoisington to assess damages.

The damaged area is about six blocks wide and a mile long.


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