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Response focuses on massive KS damage

BY SUSAN KIM | WICHITA | May 6, 1999

WICHITA (May 6,1999) -- As reports of damage rise here following a

series of massive tornadoes late Monday, disaster response leaders are

redoubling efforts to help survivors.

In heavily damaged Segwick County, which was declared a federal disaster

area Tuesday, five people died, 1,109 homes were destroyed, and 2,456

sustained major damage, and 8,480 sustained minor damage.

But those numbers will probably rise, said Tim Burke, volunteer agency

liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"As access opens, the assessments are going up. We've moved from doing

assessments from the air via helicopters to assessments on foot," said Tim

Burke, volunteer agency liaison with the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA).

Smaller pockets of severe damage are dotted throughout south central

Kansas, and reports of storm damage are still pending from Kilgore and

DeKalb in northeast Texas, where a tornado killed one person, injured a

dozen more, and caused widespread damage.

"Most phones are still out, and we're still sorting out the priorities,"

said Jackie Caldwell, the secretary at Christ the King Catholic Church in

Kilgore. "We knew a tornado touched down, but most of us couldn't see it

because it was hidden by heavy rain." The Church of the Nazerene in Kilgore

has remained open as a shelter.

In Kansas, the American Red Cross has opened shelters in Wichita and in

Haysville, a town of 9,500 that was all but wiped out when a mile-long

tornado descended. The Salvation Army has opened two meal stations in

Wichita, while 18 Red Cross mobile units and four Salvation Army roving

canteens are also bringing meals into ravaged communities.

Both organizations are also helping people locate lost loved ones by

accepting Disaster Welfare Inquiries and creating a database of missing and

found persons.

The Red Cross and many faith-based disaster response organizations are

accepting cash donations, and some are collecting material goods as well.

The Salvation Army is calling for diapers, infant formula, trashcans,

trashbags, and cleaning supplies, while United Methodist churches are

encouraging their congregations to collect boxes, duct tape, roofing nails,

mops, brooms, and trashbags.

The Salvation Army is working to obtain a 200,000-foot warehouse in which

to store items collected. Already, two 18-wheelers full of non-perishable

food and other donations are waiting for distribution. Another truckload of

toys is on its way from Kansas City.

While most faith-based organizations are still determining what volunteer

help is needed, already more than 800 volunteers from Mennonite Disaster

Service are assisting with initial cleanup efforts, with another ecumenical

group from Connecticut, coordinate through AmeriCares, is en route as well.

Lutheran Disaster Response, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and

Assemblies of God, Presbytery of Southern Kansas are also planning to

coordinate volunteer teams. The National Guard is still working to open up

access to many areas.

"We also need volunteers who are trained counselors and mental health

professionals," said Stacy Warner, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army headquarters in Wichita is installing five additional

phone lines to help manage donations and volunteers.

Interfaith meetings are scheduled for Thursday as disaster response leaders

and clergy plan their short and long-term response. Church World Service

will help coordinate an interfaith effort, and in Haysville, ecumenical

response is expected to be coordinated through the Haysville Ministerial

Association.

Initially the Haysville United Methodist Church served as a shelter, but

the shelter was moved to a community centers nearer to the most severely

damaged area.

Grief and shock have descended over the community, said Kathy Kruger Noble,

communications coordinator for the Kansas West United Methodist Conference.

A tornado cut through Kruger's backyard, though it left her home undamaged.

Her 70-year-old neighbor, who rode out the storm huddled under a pool

table, was uninjured though her house was nearly destroyed.

"This will be a long-term care effort," Noble said. "There will be a lot of

psychological and spiritual needs associated with this."

The tornado, which cut a path directly through the working class community

and destroyed the business district, occurred one week after the eight-year

anniversary of a tornado that killed nearly 20 people in Kansas, and only a

year after a grain elevator exploded in Haysville, killing seven employees.

But Alice Yoachum, who has been volunteering at the Resurrection Lutheran

Church in Haysville since the storm hit, said that, on the whole, people

are coping. "I've just been checking, helping, hoping, working," she said.

"Cleanup has started -- it's a good sign when the Mennonites are here. It's

still pretty chaotic but relief is on its way." Residents were allowed back

in their homes yesterday.

Burke said that, although damage in Oklahoma City is more severe, tornadoes

were on the ground for longer in Kansas. "The good news is that there were

less fatalities than there could have been because, since 1991, Wichita has

required that concrete tornado shelters be built into structures. That

saved many lives," he said.

Posted May 6, 1999


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