Twister hits MS Salvation Army

Disaster showed up at The Salvation Army's own headquarters.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | COLUMBIA, Miss. | November 18, 2002

"This is unique for us, because we're doing disaster work and recovering from a disaster ourselves."

—Major David Erickson

Salvation Army members are used to showing up at disaster scenes. But they're not used to disasters showing up at their own headquarters.

That's exactly what happened here Nov. 10 when the tornado that demolished the south side of town cut north and east, tearing through three Salvation Army buildings.

The main office suffered severe damage. And the thrift store was pummeled so badly it will likely have to be torn down. The adjoining warehouse was shredded.

Neighboring businesses saw even worse damage. Next door, the Anheiser Bush warehouse and Pete's Restaurant were reduced to rubble.

Major David Erickson, who ministers at the local Salvation Army chapter, said his group is holding services in a building lent by the Winn Dixie grocery store. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is running its disaster relief operation out of another donated building, an abandoned Lowe's hardware store, north of Columbus on Route 45.

"This is unique for us, because we're doing disaster work and recovering from a disaster ourselves," Erickson said.

The 85,000-square-foot warehouse is now home not only to The Salvation Army but also to personnel from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its Mississippi counterpart MEMA. Other relief groups were likely to join them, Erickson said.

"We opened it up to any agency so more assistance will be under one roof,' he said.

Hundreds of volunteers have been working in the building since the Monday following the storm, and 800 boxes of food were ready for storm survivors and workers Sunday afternoon.

Tornado survivors here could face a lengthy recovery, particularly because of the devastation inflicted on the lower-income south side of the city, said Major Alan Hill, Salvation Army division secretary for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

"Most of it is fairly low income so they don't have many options," he said.

While The Salvation Army and other groups spent the first week following the storm meeting immediate needs by providing food, clothing and first aid kits, Hill said The Salvation Army was gearing up for the next recovery stage: getting people back into homes.

That means volunteers are devoting themselves to collecting and distributing furniture.

Meanwhile, back at the destroyed local office, maintenance man Alton Ming was looking for his tools Sunday afternoon. He found most but not all of them.

Ming said he was grateful no one was inside the building when the tornado hit.

Ordinarily they would have been in the middle of church service, he said, but Nov. 10 was exceptional-it was "Friend's Day," when members invite non-church-goers to the service. Thankfully, Ming said, services were scheduled earlier in the afternoon.

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