KS salvages small pieceswith help from volunteers

The first tornado touched down about a mile west of Eula Smith's home.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | KANSAS CITY, Kan. | May 7, 2003

"You know, I've heard them say never go in your garage during a tornado. Now I know why."

—Eula Smith

The first tornado touched down about a mile west of Eula Smith's home. After destroying communities near the Kansas Speedway, the tornado roared right through Smith's suburban subdivision.

"They were in the living room watching it on TV," said Kenneth Crews, Smith's son-in-law.

Crews, a Navy vet, said the tornado reminded him of being "depth-charged."

"It was kind of like a war," he said. "It really is. Then when it's over, you try to pick up the pieces and see what's there."

Crews, despite all the sirens blaring all over the city, was driving the 30 miles from his home in Tonganoxie to his mother-in-law's house as the storm raged west. From his viewpoint on Sunday night, the late afternoon sun was shining. But in front of him was the funnel cloud.

"You wouldn't believe it," Crews said. "It was sunny right behind it."

Eula Smith and her husband Larry shut the TV off and headed for the basement when they heard the siren wailing.

They waited for three or four minutes as the tornado roared over their house, then they came out when they heard the "all-clear sirens."

"We could hardly get out of the basement," Smith said. "The door was buried with junk."

Their house is still standing, but the damage is so extensive that the building will have to be demolished, she said.

"They won't even let us move the furniture out because of all the insulation," Smith said.

The worst damage occurred in her garage, where the bay door crumpled inward like a piece of tin foil. The force of the wind shoved both cars through a wall and into the kitchen.

"It just kind of pushed them in through my freezer and through the wall," she said. "You know, I've heard them say never go in your garage during a tornado. Now I know why."

Smith, a Kansas native, said she's seen her share of minor tornadoes, or "tree toppers." But nothing like this.

"This is the worst tornado they had in Kansas City in 20 years," Crews said.

Bad as the damage was to Smith's house, some of her neighbors fared even worse. Her next-door neighbor, who recently moved to Kansas City from Florida, saw her home annihilated by the tornado. A bulldozer scraped up the trash that remained Tuesday afternoon.

The home directly across the street from Smith's home was no longer recognizable as a building.

"That was a house right there," Crews said, pointing to a pile of sticks and splinters next to a dumpster.

Smith said she was appreciative of all the volunteers who showed up in her neighborhood, such as workers from the Church of God in Bonner Springs, as well as from The Salvation Army.

"It's really quiet right now," she said. "Yesterday it was like a hill of ants everybody running all around."

While people like Smith were trying to pull what they could salvage out of their wrecked homes, a group of clergy met at the London Heights Baptist Church, mainly to prevent volunteers from "running all around."

Tom Davis, a Church World Service disaster response and recovery liaison, and Cherri Baer, a representative from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, addressed the group, and tried to prepare them for the kinds of challenges they will have to face in the very near future.

One of the biggest problems, Davis explained, is uncoordinated volunteerism initiated by well-meaning people, working on their own, who have don't know what other people around them are doing.

People collecting used clothing, in large quantities, tend to produce the biggest headaches, Davis said.

"Often clothing does become the second disaster," he said. "Once you receive it, you've got to do something with it. That's the last thing anybody wants in a disaster."

But, as is the case in Kansas City, most people didn't lose all their belongings. That's not to say that there won't be some people who will need clothes, but these relatively few people cannot possibly make use of the truckloads of used, raggedy clothing that sometimes appear at tornado sites.

Davis and Baer also stressed the importance of using church funds wisely, and being aware of how federal grants are given out, so that churches don't use all their money at once, and then not have anything left over to help people six months in the future.

Baer told the pastors to familiarize themselves with the application procedures of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so they will be able to guide their parishioners through the process.

In addition, Davis spoke about the importance of building interfaith coalitions, which will bring in more funding from national faith-based groups.

"If you don't organize," he said, "you won't be able to tap into the denominational funding that will be available."

"We weren't supposed to meet until September," said the Rev. Frank Dietz, pastor of the Zion United Church of Christ. "I guess we'll have to change our plans."

Finally Davis told the pastors they needed to take personal time, away from disaster work, in order to prevent the experience from becoming overwhelming.

"You may become just inundated with work," he said. "Regardless, you will have to care spiritually for yourself. If you don't, you're going to find yourself in crisis in two or three years, if not sooner."

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