Anxiety still grips small PA town

BY SUSAN KIM | SALISBURY, PA | February 1, 1999


SALISBURY, PA (Feb. 1, 1999) -- This town's fortitude shows in every

newly built home, roof, deck, steeple, barn, silo.

Harder to see is the undercurrent of anxiety that still grips many of the 800

residents -- six months after vicious tornadoes destroyed their homes, claimed

three lives, and tore apart their farms and businesses.

"We had a wind storm (recently), and people were just up all night," said the

Rev. Joe Byler, project director for Wind of Hope, an interfaith group helping

Salisbury and nearby towns in their long-term recovery from tornado damage.

"And I can anticipate that, with the first summer storm, the anxiety will be

even higher."

Post-disaster stress could be higher than normal here, first because tornadoes

are a rare occurrence for this region, second because three tornadoes hit the

area in two days.

"That Monday (when the first tornado struck), I was one of the people saying

'This will never happen again,' " said Byler, who is also a pastor at the

Oakdale Mennonite Church. "Now one of our goals is to be prepared if it does."

After initial emergency response by the American Red Cross and the Federal

Emergency Management Agency, 282 families in Salisbury and surrounding areas

were identified as needing long-term assistance. The area's ecumenical leaders

and contacts -- which span denominations including Mennonite, Church of the

Brethren, United Methodist, Lutheran, Amish, Catholic, United Church of

Christ, and others - sought guidance from Church World Service on how to

form an

interfaith long-term recovery committee. Together they raised money, collected

donations, organized caseworkers, coordinated volunteer work crews, and set up

an accessible office in a portable trailer in town.

Now 22 new homes have been built, and scores of others repaired. Most families

who decided to rebuild have already moved into their new homes. New barns and

silos dot the area's dairy and maple sugar farms. Congregations are back in

their churches, and local businesses are slowly bouncing back as well.

But Wind of Hope still has 80 families left to contact. "These are people who

were directly in the tornado path," said Byler. "We need to see if they still

have unmet needs. We find that we have to track them down, because their

typical answer is 'I don't need help because other people need it worse.' "

Another Wind of Hope priority is to address mental health needs that are

likely to linger, even past the year anniversary of the tornadoes this summer.

Through grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the

Pennsylvania Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Wind of Hope

is continuing to address psychological needs. While a portion of grant money

goes toward the group's administrative costs, 100 percent of funds donated by

churches and community organizations goes directly to assist clients. Wind of

Hope also receives support from the local Chamber of Commerce and Lion's Club.

Wind of Hope has five part-time caseworkers who serve as professional

counselors, identifying and addressing serious mental health needs throughout

the community.

Easing anxiety and depression can also be as simple as distributing Christmas

decorations for families who lost theirs - often when their roof was blown off

- or calling an elderly person to see if they need a trip to town. "I was

helping one woman put things back into her repaired attic, when she noticed

she had a Christmas tree up there that wasn't hers," said Byler. "Who knows

what neighbor that blew in from."

It also means letting people tell their stories - and acknowledging their pain

even months after the disaster. Shortly after the tornadoes, many local

pastors focused on simply listening. "A lot of people then were asking the

question 'why me?' - and they still are," said Byler.

Many pastors chose not to preach about the storm right away. Byler himself

waited until September -- about three months after the tornadoes -- then

preached from Jeremiah: 12, where the difficult question to God is 'why do

the wicked prosper?'

"After the tornadoes, a lot of us asked 'I'm a good person - why did this

happen to me?' " said Byler. "I thought we were far enough away from the

tornado to talk about it. But I saw people crying throughout the sermon. We

ended up having a special ministry time after the message. I hadn't planned

this - but the Lord did."

Also unplanned is the extent of unity Wind of Hope has brought to this faith

community. "A lot of pastors and church people had been saying we need to get

together. It has been good to get know the community and be involved in this

cooperative spirit. We have built a strong basic trust here," said Byler.

While Wind of Hope specifically handles disaster-related issues, many

residents now feel comfortable approaching the committee with pressing needs

unrelated to the tornadoes. "We routinely pass on those situations to pastors

and other appropriate people -- and often their needs are addressed within a

day," he said.

Even after closing its files on long-term recovery, Wind of Hope's leaders

plan to keep the basic structure of their committee in place for the future.

"If the need arises, we want to be able to easily pull it together," said

Byler.

Posted Feb. 1, 1999


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