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PA looks long-term

Rev. Dwight Hein never experienced a tornado before.


"Our ecumenical group is already in place - it's very strong."

—Rev. Dwight Hein

Rev. Dwight Hein never experienced a tornado before, and after seeing the damage from last Thursday's twister in Campbelltown, he's sure he never wants to see one again.

"To see the power - the projectiles the tornado created, it was incredible," said Hein, pastor of Salem United Church of Christ in Campbelltown. "There were concrete blocks stuck in the sides of houses, and two-by-fours stuck in trees."

Hein was in the damaged neighborhood two hours after the F-3 tornado rolled through, checking on some of his parishioners. Then the skies grew dark again.

"Another line of storms was coming in, so they evacuated the whole area again," he explained. "So I started helping get people into emergency vehicles and out of the area."

The Campbelltown tornado destroyed 37 homes and damaged over 100 others. Much of the damage lies within one development, but sporadic damage is evident throughout the county.

Hein said his church and many others around the community are already offering assistance to the affected families. The area churches already work together through an ecumenical alliance called the Palmyra-Area Cooperating Churches.

"Our ecumenical group is already in place - it's very strong," he said. "So we'll be doing our relief work through already established agencies." Hein added that the ecumenical group also already has a fund they use to help families who lose homes to fire, which will now also be used for tornado relief funds.

So far, the ecumenical team is doing significant work. The area churches are already helping affected families find housing, including families who just need temporary assistance until repairs are completed on the homes. A local Methodist church with a daycare center is offering free childcare. Many church parishioners from around the community are also bringing in prepared meals for volunteers and affected families.

"The response has been incredible," said Hein. "For something as big as this to have never happened before in Lebanon County - the response has been just great."

Hein said the national denominations of the participating churches have also been a significant help, offering both disaster recovery advice and donations. "The United Church of Christ gave us a donation - and the Methodists, Lutherans, and Catholic Charities have all offered their help," explained Hein.

"They're even helping with all the administrative details. When the tornado hit, I didn't know where to start, but their support has been amazing. Now I know why all this is set up in advance!"

The community's pastors are working with county officials to provide spiritual counseling to families and volunteers. "I try to keep in touch with our families each day," Hein said of the seven affected families in his church. "But we do spiritual counseling for anyone. It's really the ministry of letting them know you're here, the ministry of presence."

According to Hein, he's noticed a change in the community already. "I've seen many tears of sadness change to tears of joy because of how generous volunteers have been," Hein said. "Our phone's been ringing off the hook with people calling in to offer help."

He spoke of his own parishioners' generosity, saying many were preparing meals, helping remove downed trees, and just doing anything they can.

The pastors of the local churches are also checking in on each other regularly, said Hein, making sure the others are okay and not "burning out" with all the work they're doing.

The recovery process in Campbelltown will be extensive, according to Hein. Most of the affected families in the hardest hit neighborhood have insurance, but Hein said the ecumenical alliance will do whatever is needed to help. The group is also targeting the outlying damaged rural areas.

"There will be a definite long-term need in this (recovery)," Hein said.

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