After twister, MS still working

Nearly two months after a tornado struck Columbus, residents are still struggling.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | COLUMBUS, Miss. | January 12, 2003

Nearly two months after a tornado struck here Nov. 10, residents are still struggling to put this small city back together again.

Recovery has been even more difficult than it would normally be, mainly because the facilities of two disaster response groups The Salvation Army and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) were severely damaged by the twister.

But both groups, despite the setbacks, recovered rather quickly, and have managed to help themselves as well as Columbus residents.

Between the two response groups, The Salvation Army was struck the hardest. The main warehouse was shredded, and the thrift store was so badly damaged it had to be torn down, said Major David Erickson.

But not long after the tornado, The Salvation Army moved into an enormous building donated by Lowe's, where they have spent the last two months dispensing food, clothing and furniture.

Requests for food and clothing have steadily decreased, Erickson said. The big demand lately is for furniture.

Now they've moved into another building, this one donated by the Winn-Dixie company.

Erickson thinks they will be able to move back permanently by June 2003, a pretty quick recovery considered that they were nearly wiped out just two months ago.

"We're trying to push it as quickly as we can because Winn-Dixie has been real generous to us," he said.

Overall, Erickson said recovery "is going very well for us."

Doreen and Jerry Klassen, from British Columbia, are in charge of the MDS efforts here, and they arrived in Columbus shortly after the tornado hit. They were originally assigned to join a work crew in Eunice, La., in the wake of Hurricane Lili, but their assignment was altered as a result of the tornado.

Jerry directs the work crews out in the field while Doreen runs the office.

Their first concern was to put their base back together again, an operation that they accomplished rather quickly.

MDS had to totally rebuild its storage warehouse, a project completed by the end of November.

So far, Doreen Klassen said, 95 volunteers have helped clean up debris and renovate and rebuild damaged houses. Some of the volunteers have come from as far away as Saskatchewan. So far they've completed work on five severely damaged houses.

Much of their work has concentrated on the south side of Columbus, a low-income predominantly African-American part of the city, which was hit the hardest by the Nov. 10 tornado.

Klassen said MDS will continue working in Columbus for at least the next six months.

One group that will carry the tornado recovery here through 2003 and beyond is the local interfaith organization known as the Golden Triangle Community Agencies Recovery Efforts, or GTCAREs.

Director Don Vollenweider said the group started out by coordinating the efforts of several different organizations, but now that most immediate needs have been met, GTCAREs is switching over to address long-range goals.

Training will begin next week, he said, for caseworkers who will go out in the field and identify families in need of assistance, and a team from Christian Reformed World Relief Committee will arrive to make an assessment of what kind of help people need.

GTCAREs is composed of Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, The Salvation Army, MDS, the Interdenominational Alliance of Ministers, the United Way and Habitat for Humanity, among others.

One of these organizations, the Interdenominational Alliance of Ministers, which is composed mainly of African-American ministers, is especially active in helping out the residents of Columbus's south side.

The Rev. Joe Bowen, vice president of the alliance, as well as pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Crawford, Miss., said most relief efforts are winding down, but food and clothing is still being given out to less than ten people a day.

Two months ago, however, the alliance was providing supplies to between 200 and 300 people a day. And for Christmas, they put together packages for more than 400 families.

"I think everything is going good," Bowen said, "and people feel something's being done."

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