Donations lag in GA

Public donations slow to materialize to help survivors of tornado in southern Georgia.

BY DANIEL YEE | CAMILLA, GA | March 24, 2003

"All (people) see on TV is the war. They don't realize we have a need right here in our own area."

—Carolyn Lipscomb, Adventist Disaster Response

Just three days after a tornado struck the town on Valentine's Day, 2000, the Adventist Disaster Response warehouse was full of donated supplies and food for the hundreds of people displaced when their homes were damaged or destroyed. But not this time.

After Thursday's tornado, Adventist officials say they're experiencing an unusual response.

"The donations aren't coming in," said Carolyn Lipscomb, warehouse director. "That is not normal. We have never experienced this."

But unlike the 2000 tornado, the United States is at war and disaster response officials suspect people aren't noticing anything but the war. Media attention, which typically would publicize the tornado disaster, is also focused on the war.

"I think the war has taken precedence," Lipscomb said. "All (people) see on TV is the war. They don't realize we have a need right here in our own area."

On Thursday, a category F-3 tornado struck Camilla and parts of Worth County, killing at least seven people and injuring about 100. Officials estimate $2.5 million in damages and say as many as 150 homes were destroyed.

Lipscomb said people flooded the center with donations after the 2000 tornado, the 1999 tornado in Vienna, GA, the 1998 flooding in nearby Albany, GA. and Lee County and in the 1994 Albany flood.

So far, they only have received a small shipment of building supplies. They need food, personal hygiene products and household items including cleaning supplies, she said.

We want to open up at 9 o'clock to start distributing," she said. "But we can't do that if we have nothing to give out. We need donations."

Instead, Terry Haight, the coordinator for the Adventist Disaster Response in Georgia and eastern Tennessee, said Monday he's thinking about closing down the warehouse just five days after the tornado struck this Georgia community.

"Those donations are just non-existent," Haight said. "Just a little bit of canned goods and some clothing. But there's not enough to even warrant giving it to anybody."

Haight is pretty sure that saturation media coverage of the war in Iraq is more than a little responsible for the lack of interest and help.

"At the time (the tornado) hit, we were all glued to our TVs, watching the war in Iraq," he said. "I wouldn't even have known about it if my boss hadn't called and told me about it."

Leaders of national faith-based disaster-relief groups say it's really too early to tell what effect the war will have on domestic donations, but some are worried about a drop-off in giving.

"The response really is a function of how much coverage (a disaster) gets and how slow or fast a news day it is," said Stan Hankins, associate for national disaster response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

A small, isolated tornado like the one that struck Camilla, he said, is "going to find its way to the back pages of the newspaper."

Ted Houser, spokesman for the Mennonite Disaster Service, compared the saturation war coverage to the national attention on the September 11 terrorist attacks. "The news media can kind of dictate what's going on -- where people's priorities are set."

-- Travis Dunn also contributed to this story.

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