Rebuilding lives in Ark towns

BY SUSAN KIM | LITTLE ROCK, AR | February 25, 1999


With cleanup in its final stages, disaster response leaders in Arkansas are coordinating a major rebuild

effort that will begin in earnest within two weeks.

Work teams are already enroute to Arkansas, representing denominations including the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, United

Methodist Committee on Relief, Volunteers in Mission, Mennonite Disaster Service, Adventist Community Service, Lutheran Disaster

Response, Assembly of God, and many others.

Most are working through the Interfaith Disaster Response Team (IDRT), which has taken a lead role in long-term recovery after 38 tornadoes

swept through the state Jan. 21. Nearly 1,800 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed have registered with the Federal Emergency

Management Agency. Less than 20 percent are adequately covered by insurance.

Residents describe the current mood -- before large numbers of volunteers arrive but after initial emergency relief -- as a lull. Some are joining

in community-wide events to boost their collective spirits. Some are taking time to make painful decisions about whether to rebuild their homes

or have them demolished. Others are taking comfort from the small signs of rebuilding and renewal that are already visible.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will travel to the town of Beebe on Sunday for a community worship service and barbecue. The event will

be on the grounds of the Beebe Church of Christ, where many of the town's 4,400 residents gathered for meals, water, and other assistance the

week after the storm. Beebe is facing $30 million in damages.

The Rev. Larry Treadwell said that local volunteers continue to go door-to- door in Beebe to assess unmet needs. "We're a small community, so

we tend to get word about unmet needs," he said.

The Rev. Buzz Yarborough, IDRT executive director and an Episcopal pastor, said that IDRT is actively recruiting volunteers. "We're about to

begin long- term casework. We'll need volunteers and building materials. Right now we're also helping people find temporary housing and

resources to alleviate their financial shortages."

Financial pressures are descending on many residents as FEMA assessments are finalized and people realize they don't have enough money to

rebuild. Beebe resident Edward Hulett said that he is not sure of his next step. FEMA funds may help him rebuild his family's home. But

Hulett also lost $45,000 in inventory from his used car business, which was vastly underinsured. "We've been simply unable to do anything

other than find temporary housing. We're still trying to get our lives in order. I'm going to have to borrow money from my family," he said.

The pace of rebuilding can be frustrating, and the decisions painful, acknowledged the Rev. Kevin Lyon, pastor at the First United Methodist

Church in Beebe. Recently that congregation, with help from FEMA and professional contractors, decided to demolish the heavily-damaged

parsonage, fellowship hall, and educational building. The congregation still worships in the sanctuary while partitioning off areas for Sunday

School. "The sanctuary has a new roof, and we're all able to worship together - just a little closer together than before," he said. "We haven't

seen any new homes go up yet - but soon."

Lyon said he is looking forward to Huckabee's visit because it gives the community a chance for fellowship. "It's time now for us to get

together and rejoice," he said. In another recent spirit-boosting community event, Bob Villa made a celebrity appearance in Little Rock to

announce Sears Roebuck's latest donation to the American Red Cross.

Waiting for rebuilding to begin is frustrating even for those who are adequately insured, said the Rev. JoEllen Willis, vice chair of IDRT and a

Unitarian Universalist pastor. "I was talking to a woman who had the money to rebuild -- but she was 65th on a waiting list for a contractor,"

said Willis.

Frustration happens no matter what the phase of recovery, but it's especially high when people have to complete paperwork and wait for

decisions before they can take action, said the Rev. Hezekiah Stewart, founder of the Watershed Community Center in Little Rock. "Even

something like removing a large tree stump can take forever when you're debating things like where the city easement ends and where

someone's property begins," he said.

At least some volunteer teams will be building more than just homes. Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) teams are also planning to construct

in-ground concrete storm shelters designed to hold 6-8 people - affectionately called "Fraidy Holes" by local residents. After tornadoes swept

through Arkansas two years ago, LDR teams built several of the shelters, and found that residents put them to good use during the most recent

storm.

"One had 22 people in it, and they walked out to see huge trees had fallen all around, and many of their homes were crushed. Many would have

died if they'd stayed in their homes," said Hal Shope, Lutheran disaster coordinator for the state of Arkansas.

Lutheran Disaster Response has also been distributing handmade quilts to tornado survivors. "For many families, this is the first personal item

they receive," said Shope. "I let a mother and her two children each choose a quilt, and it brought tears to their eyes. They had lost everything."


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