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Twice-hit KS towns struggle

Weather-wise, May and June were not good months for Liberal and Kismet, two towns in the southwestern corner of Kansas.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | August 20, 2003

Weather-wise, May and June were not good months for Liberal and Kismet, two towns in the southwestern corner of Kansas.

May brought tornadoes, including one that wrecked Kismet, a town of little over a thousand people, and wreaked havoc on Liberal, city about ten times the size of Kismet, and the largest city in that stretch of Kansas.

But June wasn't much better. Winds topping 80 mph raked the same towns with huge balls of hail, as if Mother Nature were adding insult to injury.

In Kismet, after the May tornado touched down, every building in town incurred damage, according to Sherri Baer, who works with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

"Every structure was hit," Baer said. "That was something to see."

Then the hail came. "That's a double whammy," she said. "It was a mess."

The damage from the first disaster got lumped together under a Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration that applied to two waves of tornadoes that raked the rest of the state. Unfortunately, that didn't happen with the second storm.

"That wasn't declared," Baer said. "So nobody's getting federal help."

The result is a lot of damage and a lot of uncertainty about who's going to pay for it all.

UMCOR is working with the Southwest Kansas Interfaith Recovery Committee, a network of churches that is just getting started on its mission to provide assistance to the three counties-Meade, Seward and Haskell-affected by these storms.

The chairman of that interfaith, the Rev. George Henry, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Plains, said there is quite a bit to be done, considering that more than 60 percent of Kismet incurred serious damage in the hailstorm, and every single building had at least some window or siding damage from the hail.

One business, the local Holiday Inn Express, was destroyed by the hailstorm, Henry said.

"That business and several others are still closed," he said.

Besides the widespread damage, there is an additional complication. Hundreds of undocumented people live in Liberal and Kismet, and many were affected by the storms. Exactly how many, nobody seems to know.

Henry said all these problems will have to be addressed in the coming months. Right now, he's just trying to get the new interfaith group up and running. Last week, a group of volunteers received training in case management, and Henry plans to hire a part-time coordinator soon. While a full-time worker might be more desirable, he said, "unless we find a lot more than what we have in terms of monetary resources, that's about as much as we're going to be able to afford to do."

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