Survivors focus on helping neighbors

BY SUSAN KIM | OWENSBORO, KY | January 14, 2000


OWENSBORO, KY (Jan. 14, 2000) -- Apollo High School was square in the

path of the Jan. 3 tornado that caused millions in damage and

terrified residents.

Tim Hill, a senior, was at track practice when the warning sirens

sounded. "We went to the lunch room. About 100 people were there for

5 or 10 minutes. Then my ears popped, and the air vents back-flushed

all this debris and dirt, and the lights went off."

The tornado hit at 4 p.m., and, for the next four hours, Hill stayed

at the school, trying to calm terrified peers and help people who

came into the doors afterward. "When we heard the tornado coming, my

friend grabbed me and said 'Timmy, pray.' "

But Hill didn't panic. "I don't think it really clicked with me. This

was the first disaster I've ever been through. I just started helping

other people. I'm still missing a pair of shoes, a blanket, and a

shirt."

Hill, who is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said

he considers himself not just lucky but blessed to emerge uninjured.

The school sustained heavy damage to the roof and ceiling, with an

entire domed area simply blown off.

The school was closed for more than a week, and Hill continued to

spend his days volunteering to help survivors.

Even though most people in the community had full or partial insurance, there are many in need. The storm cut a 7-mile-long, 1.5-mile-wide

path. More than 162 homes were destroyed, 659 had major damage, and

2,114 had minor damage.

President Clinton signed a federal disaster declaration for Daviess,

Crittenden, and Webster counties. But until federal aid arrives,

neighbors are helping each other, said John Kays, coordinator for the

Kentucky Interchurch Disaster Recovery Program (KIDRP).

"There is a strong community support attitude," he said, "but there

is much work to be done and the hardest times are ahead."

KIDRP is one among many churches and faith-based response groups that

are helping survivors get through those hard times.

Local churches and pastors -- many of whom are new to disaster

response -- are figuring out how best to help survivors.

The First Christian Church plans to house a single mother and her

three children, displaced by the tornado, in a church-owned home,

said the Rev. Amy Spangler-Dunning.

Spangler-Dunning, who is president of the Owensboro Ministerial

Association, said she is concerned about survivors who have to cope

with insurance and assessment paperwork, family needs, cleanup, and

work, all at once. "I hope people's employers are giving them some

time off," she said.

In denominational gatherings and neighborhood meetings, the

discussion centers around what disaster response means for Owensboro.

Ed Goins, a Methodist district superintendent who supervises pastors

in western Kentucky, called a meeting to decide how his denomination,

through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, can help.

"How many families in your congregations have been affected?" he

asked some 30 Methodist pastors.

Nearly every pastor in Owensboro spoke up, until Goins tallies about

90 families in those churches alone who may have needs that go unmet

in the wake of this disaster, the first to hit their town since

anyone can remember.

Goins has his own story of survival. He home was in the tornado's

path. "The district parsonage sustained quite a bit of water damage

when parts of the roof blew off, and the clay tile in the chimney

blew out," he said. "But my electricity has been restored and so I'm

no longer living with a generator."

And the United Methodist-affiliated Kentucky Wesleyan College

sustained at least $5 million in damages, said the Rev. John

Higginbotham, campus minister.

"There was nobody on campus that wasn't impacted at some level," he

said, though fortunately the vast majority of students had not yet

returned from winter break. "The president's home will, in the final

analysis, have to be leveled, and we still have no idea what the

damage to the computer networks is," he said.

Of the 30 pastors in the room, only five had any experience in

disaster response. "But how many of you have people in your churches

who want to help?" asks Goins. They all raise their hands.

The Rev. Tom Grieb, pastor at the Settle Memorial United Methodist

Church, said that, after an initial week cleaning up debris, some

volunteers no longer knew how to further help.

"What are we going to do? I've got a long list of people who want to

help," he said.

The Rev. Roger Newell, in a presentation on behalf of UMCOR, tried to

answer Grieb's question.

His reply -- "we need to establish an oversight committee" -- may not

seem to capture what many regard as the excitement of disaster

response. But such coordination can help more people, more quickly he

explained.

"We need somebody that can be very good at coordinating volunteers,"

he said. "When they come into town, they need to know where to go,

what they'll do, how they'll be fed."

Kays added that the best way for people to help is to send cash

donations to response organizations involved in the disaster. "Send

material items only when requested by the local authorities," he

added. "Items not needed are frequently a burden to the front-line

workers."

Posted Jan. 15, 2000


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