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Previous disaster helps aid move quickly after storms

BY GEORGE PIPER | LITTLE ROCK, AK | January 24, 1999

Responding to their second major disaster in two years, emergency officials and members of the

Interfaith Disaster Recovery Team (IDRT) here, are losing little time in organizing relief efforts to help survivors of last week's tornadoes.

As least 1,356 homes are damaged or destroyed across the state, including 676 in the city of Little Rock according to the Arkansas Office of

Emergency Services.

At least seven people died after more than 25 tornadoes touched down Thursday afternoon and evening -- a new record for the number of

twisters to hit a state in one day. Of 26 counties reporting damage to the state, 17 declared local emergencies and requested state help. The cities

of Little Rock and North Little Rock issued similar declarations and requests and the state called out the National Guard to supply water and

cleanup crews.

President Bill Clinton, who will visit the state on Sunday, designated five counties as federal disaster areas: Independence, Saline, St. Francis,

Pulaski and White. Also, Gov. Mike Huckabee declared state disaster areas in those counties plus Clay, Cleburne, Faulkner, Greene, Hot

Spring, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lonoke, Monroe and Prairie counties.

IDRT is spearheading the recovery effort around Little Rock, which formed in 1997 after twisters cut a similar path through Arkansas in March

of that year. The organization primarily covers Pulaski and Saline counties, but is slowly building toward a statewide presence.

The organization is hosting daily meetings of disaster relief organizations to help coordinate efforts. According to a report issued Sunday, the

actual extent of the damages of local homes is much higher than originally reported.

According to state emergency officials In White County, which includes the small towns of Beebe and McRae, the twisters destroyed 78 homes

and damaged 70, while Independence County saw 100 homes destroyed and 23 damaged. In the aftermath of the storms, some officials

predicted that the tiny town of McRae, population 669, will actually need to be rebuilt.

Perhaps nowhere was the damage felt more than in Beebe, a town of 4,400 some 30 miles northeast of Little Rock. More than half of the homes

in Beebe were damaged. A church, the fire station and school buildings, were among the structures reported to have been destroyed.

"In comparison with (tornadoes in) 1997, this is worse," said Bill Rose-Heim, associate regional minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of

Christ) in Arkansas, where IDRT's office has been located. "We have more folks who have homes to rebuild."

Faith-based and government disaster relief organization are meeting much of the survivor's immediate needs, said Rose-Heim, adding that

denominations are working together well, which was also the case two years ago.

By Monday, IDRT hopes to hire a temporary coordinator and will be moving its office to the Watershed Community Center, which has deep

ties to the Little Rock faith community, Rose-Heim said. The coordinator's primary responsibility will be fostering communication among the

faith groups so that services are supported and not duplicated.

In 1997, IDRT helped rebuild 70 house and aided 400 families between March 1997 and June 1998. This time, said Rose-Heim. "We know

what to do now."

Daily updates from IDRT have been sent to area churches to encourage collection of goods and cash donations and to recruit volunteers. On

Sunday, the organization was seeking vans to help distribute supplies to survivors.

Also, pastors are being told to refer survivors to the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to ask their

congregations to make casual contact with survivors to offer encouragement. Flyers will be distributed to survivors with information about

needs and services.

Following a two hour meeting Friday, Rose-Heim said, "In two hours, we accomplished what took two weeks to do the last time."

IDRT members include representatives of Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, Disciples of Christ, Southern Baptist Convention,

Episcopalian, Lutheran, Reformed Judaism, United Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist and Unitarian Universalists faith communities.

Shelters opened in Little Rock, Independence County and White County. Southern Baptist Conference disaster officials and the United

Methodist Committee on Relief are working with the American Red Cross to feed tornado survivors in Arkansas, said Roger Elliot, president of

the Arkansas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and a Red Cross official. Adventist Community Services has been contacted to help

distribute clothing and other items.

The widespread damage is making it difficult to reach people in sparsely populated counties, Elliot said. Red Cross lacks local chapters in 10 of

the 18 counties where the VOAD is assisting, so the organization relies on emergency management, human services and ham radio operators to

find people with need.


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More links on Tornadoes

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