Double trouble: floods and twisters

WI disaster teams trained for flooding responds to tornado damage.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | BALTIMORE | January 9, 2008


With temperatures topping out at the freezing mark in southwestern Wisconsin, faith-based disaster response teams set up in late summer to assist flood survivors were repurposed when tornados on Monday ripped a half mile swath through Kenosha County.

David Sharpe, the disaster response coordinator for the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church, said assessment teams headed out early Tuesday to see the damage in Kenosha County where officials estimate as many as 100 houses were destroyed.

"If it's not one thing, it's another, isn't it?" Sharpe said. "We were finishing up the flood damage repairs and now it's a tornado."

Officials in Kenosha County said the cold was hampering some of the initial damage assessments. Although many residents had been evacuated, teams of local, state and federal officials had not been able to get to some of the damaged areas by Tuesday afternoon.

Lori Getter of the Wisconsin office of Emergency Management said there were no reports of fatalities associated with the storm, though there were some reports of minor injuries. There were some reports of flooding in Milwaukee and in Madison, but no damage was associated with the high waters.

January tornadoes are rare in Wisconsin, Getter said, adding it has been approximately 100 years since a tornado was reported in January.

"We were expecting floods because we had so much snow in December and it's been unseasonably warm so far this year," she said. She added, however, the only month in which there has never been a tornado in Wisconsin is February.

Sharpe said the teams had been gearing up for more flood damage clean up, but, for them, the process isn't too much different. After assessments are done, he explained, case workers will help with the long-term recovery process. Donations are sought, secured and then put to work doing whatever is needed.

In the meantime, work will continue to wrap up the work volunteers are doing to help flood survivors across the region get back to their lives. The United Methodists and other faith-based organizations are working to find housing for a few more families as well as securing replacement appliances and furnaces for those who have moved into new homes or reoccupied their old homes after repairs were complete.

"Washers and dryers are high on most people's minds, but the furnaces are very important at this time of year," Sharpe said.

The four United Methodist teams, covering 14 counties, moved into the area in August after flood waters destroyed two dozen homes and damaged more than 900 others. Their mission, Sharpe said, was to fill the gaps where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials could not offer services. They have been doing whatever they can for five months.

"We've had donations of money and other gifts," Sharpe said. "We have been working with local churches and with businesses to provide what we can."

The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) is helping residents whose furnaces were damaged or destroyed in the floods.

A great deal of the tornado damage was in agricultural areas where summer floods had already damaged and destroyed crops as well as farm buildings and homes. Sharpe said a major focus is to help provide for housing for flood survivors. They are helping direct farmers to seek federal disaster assistance for devastated crops when they are able.

More than 35 tornadoes were reported across the Midest Monday and Tuesday.


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