Mother's Day has new meaning in MO

Missouri, Oklahoma residents face significant rebuilding process

BY BOND BRUNGARD | SENECA, MO | May 16, 2008


Sifting through the wreckage of their home, this couple came across treasures. The house was one of many that were badly damaged or destroyed by a powerful tornado May 10.
Credit: Michael Raphael/FEMA

The Rev. Jim Wilson did something on Mother’s Day Sunday he had never done before.

Wilson, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Seneca, conducted Sunday morning services, but he cancelled the evening services, and he and about 75 of his parishioners went out to clean up the damage brought on by tornadoes the day before.

“We went out and tore a house down from top to bottom,” he said.

The tornadoes that ripped through this southwestern corner of Missouri started in Oklahoma and raced southeast, killing people in their homes and their parked cars after it became impossible to drive in the ensuing downpour of rain and hail.

Seneca is located in Newton County, and about six miles north in and around State Route 43, 14 people died. Six died in their cars, and 14 died in their homes in this rural area.

More than 140 homes were destroyed in the county, and 51 received major damage. Another 235 homes suffered minor or roof damage.

“There’s a tremendous amount of damage,” said Gary Roark, Newton County’s emergency management director.

Roark said Newton County and FEMA officials have been meeting to assess the damage, so that they help people get started with the rebuilding process.

Back in Seneca, Wilson’s congregation had two parishioners that lost their homes and their church suffered some roof damage. And during the week since the storms, Wilson's congregation has been collecting food, water and toiletries and distributing to those in need in and around Seneca, from a tractor-trailer, and raised another $5,000 to help with local relief.

“We’re giving food away today,” he said shortly before lunchtime Thursday, May 15. “Our people have been awesome.”

The tornadoes that ran through Missouri first struck Picher, OK, and destroyed 170 homes, killing seven in their cars and homes and leaving about 500 people homeless in a community of about 1,600 residents.

“We are trying to get temporary housing set-up,” said Frank Greasland, the emergency management director in Ottawa County.

Greasland said county official have been meeting with FEMA representatives to get reimbursed for its governmental expenses incurred by the initial relief effort. And next week, FEMA will be meeting with residents needing individual assistance.

Many residents have moved in with relatives until they can start to rebuilt, he said. Lead was once mined near Picher, and the county is waiting for word from the EPA before the real clean up can get started, as lead levels from the mining waste are being monitored.

Picher is near by a 40-sq.mile Superfund site where lead and zinc were once mined. And the community has been involved in a federal government buy-out plan when the twisters hit.

“It just spread it all over,” said Greasland.

Southern Baptist volunteers in Picher served 450 meals during lunch and dinner Monday, May 12, near city hall, which was spared by the storms. Meals were also prepared by Baptists and delivered by the Red Cross to residents staying in a shelter.

The tornadoes that hit Picher were about a half-mile wide in some places and destroyed about 20 square blocks in the city.


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