Help pours in to assist survivors

BY DISASTER NEWS NETWORK | SPENCER, S.D. | June 24, 1998


SPENCER, S.D. (June 24, 1998) -- As some of the initial shock of the devastation caused by the May 30

tornado wore off, disaster relief organizations have been helping restore

the spirits and the property of the people in Spencer, S.D.

The massive tornado destroyed more than 90 percent of the

homes and businesses in Spencer. Six people died and nearly half of the

city's 317 residents, were injured.

President Bill Clinton declared Spencer a major disaster area, making

the local governments and area residents, eligible for federal disaster

assistance. Vice President Al Gore toured the city on June 3.

Decrying widely published comments of several residents questioning the

wisdom of rebuilding the city, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow declared

the community will be rebuilt. "We're going to start from scratch

and build a new community on this 6 block by 8 block area," he told

reporters, "you bet we are!"

To help local residents, the South Dakota Community Foundation, announced

it plans to give $1,000 to every Spencer resident. However, finding every

Spencer resident may prove to be a challenge. Many local residents are

straying with friends and family -- often hundreds of miles away.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said they

are exploring the possibility of bringing in some of the

temporary housing that was used in the Upper Midwest floods last year, for

area residents.

Finding housing for residents of the small city located near I-90 about 40

miles west of Sioux Falls, has been mentioned as one of the highest

priorities.

The Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the

Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) visited Spencer the day following the

tornado. "Although the

church building is gone," she said, "the congregation is still intact."

Jim Barclay, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services/Lutheran

Disaster Response for South Dakota (LSS/LDR) also visited the city that day

and related some of the nearly unbelievable images he saw. "I saw

trees sandblasted to their core, looking dry and lifeless as if they had

been that way for a long, long time. I saw an ordinary cardboard box flap

about 10 inches long driven 5 inches through a car's windshield. Banking

records from Spencer were found in Luverne, MN, " almost 70 miles away, he

said.

LSS/LDR took a truckload of portable generators to the stricken town to be

used in the clean-up efforts. In addition, LSS is planning to offer the

services of its Consumer Credit counseling division to help people

reconstruct their financial records.

Kirk Preheim, conducted a site evaluation for Church World Service on

June 1 and Robert Blom, the SD Disaster Response Consultant for CWS has

been discussing ways the faith community may respond with a number of

different organizations. Other faith-based disaster response organizations are

currently evaluating the best ways to be helpful in the recovery process.

An interfaith mental health task force was assembled June 1,

including Sioux Falls representatives of the Roman Catholic-affiliated

McKennan Hospital, the Baptist-affiliated Sioux Valley Hospital, the South

Dakota Mental Health Department and Southeast Mental Health Services, a

local agency.

LSS/LDR is also providing counseling services for tornado survivors. In

addition, Lutherans plan to "provide support for clergy and care-givers

that will assist people in the time ahead," said the Rev. David G. Larson,

assistant to the South Dakota bishop.

In addition to residents of Spencer, a number of area farm families outside

of the city lost homes and outbuildings. "One of my biggest concerns is the

rural families," Barclay added, "there's maybe a half dozen of them that

were just wiped out. They have no house, no barn, no outbuildings. The

newly planted fields are absolutely strewn with debris, including dead

cattle and entire cottonwood and oak trees."

Volunteers from United Reform Church in Sanborn, Iowa and several local

churches are planning to walk fields with flatbed trucks,

but they expect to be challenged with the size of some of the debris.

Salvation Army workers were on the scene within hours of the tornado

Saturday night and have been providing assistance for survivors and relief

workers.

Most of the relief efforts are currently centered in Salem a few miles to

the east. The American Red Cross has set up its headquarters in the high

school gym in Salem and other organizations are using the National Guard

Armory, which has also provided shelter for many of the residents of

Spencer.

Armory officials say they are seeking local donations of basic household

items like folding chairs, card tables, and disposable tableware. However,

they do not want clothing. Early local reports suggesting the need

for clothing for victims has produced more clothes than relief agencies may

ever be able to organize or distribute.

-- Jim Ketcham contributed to this

article.

Updated June 24, 1998


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