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'People really care'

Residents of Marengo, Indiana, are not taking storm recovery lying down.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MARENGO, Ind. | August 12, 2004

"This disaster is such that it's hard for people to see the need because it's so scattered."

—Lura Cayton

Residents of Marengo, Indiana, are not taking storm recovery lying down - they're in it just as much as any outside volunteer.

"We've had a lot of outside help - but we're in this as a community," said

the Rev. Bob Wallace of Marengo's Hillview Christian Church.

A devastating May 30 tornado destroyed 80% of the small town's buildings.

Over 50 homes were destroyed and another 150 suffered serious damage. Yet people in the small southern Indiana community of 850 didn't let that break their spirit.

"This storm brought people together," said Wallace, who also heads up the Weathering the Storm Unmet Needs Committee in Marengo.

The Marengo recovery is still in the cleanup process, Wallace said, and they're grateful for how much help they've received. Volunteers from all over have donated their time cleaning up debris and assisting in home deconstruction. Wallace also said his own church parishioners are doing all they can to help. The youth group is even helping to serve meals. He added that the same goes for all the churches in the community.

Coming up on August 28 is Crawford County Day, which Wallace said will serve as another community gathering and cleanup opportunity for anyone who wants to help. "We want folks to bring anything they can - gloves, tools, and even heavy equipment if they're licensed - to help pick up debris," he explained.

This weekend will also see a caseworker training for the unmet needs committee. Wallace said many local and regional volunteers will attend.

"These folks are very much on top of things," said Lura Cayton about the unmet needs committee in Marengo. A Church World Service (CWS) Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison (DRRL), Cayton has been in Marengo and other damaged communities across southern Indiana several times since June. She said the needs are still great across the state.

"This disaster is such that it's hard for people to see the need because it's so scattered," she explained.

Much of Indiana suffered from the same line of storms that leveled Marengo. Cayton said she also worked with the American Red Cross and the regional voluntary agency liaison from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help get the Southern Indiana Unmet Needs Committee (SIUNC) on its feet. While Weathering the Storm covers Crawford County - SIUNC helps the five other counties damaged in late May by the same storms. Members of SIUNC will also be attending the caseworker training this weekend.

"There's going to be a need for construction and volunteers across the region," said Cayton. "The committees will just need to do a little more defining of the needs first. Just getting folks organized is a bit of a challenge right now."

Cayton said another worry is employment issues. Several towns had their anchor businesses severely damaged, including the town of Salem in Washington County. Some employees have not been at work since the tornadoes because businesses are trying to repair or rebuild.

Central Indiana felt the brunt of the late May storms as well. The south side of Indianapolis experienced significant damage, according to CWS DRRL Tim Johnson. "Home repairs are the biggest need right now," said Johnson. "The cleanup is done."

Johnson said he will return to Indianapolis this weekend to encourage more congregations to take part in the interfaith recovery process. The Central Indianapolis Interfaith Disaster Recovery Organization (CIIDRO) formed as an organized central group to help residents. CIIDRO is an arm of Hope International Ministries, a social services non-profit in the city that's run by Rev. Jean Huiett and her husband. Huiett serves as chair of CIIDRO now as well.

"This interfaith just started, but already we're very busy," laughed Huiett, who said they've already gotten warehouse space donated to them for storage of relief supplies. She said CIIDRO has 26 families on its list now, but that number is expected to grow as word of the organization's existence spreads. And as in Marengo, Huiett said they're attending a caseworker training session this weekend with other volunteers.

She also agreed that construction is the biggest need facing affected families at this time. Many families they're talking to feel discouraged, said Huiettt, yet came away from meeting with CIIDRO feeling encouraged that someone does care.

Pastoral care is another way CIIDRO is helping families recover. "We've prayed with many families," Huiett said, adding that they're also making sure they help children cope with their feelings as well.

Down in Marengo, Rev. Wallace also acknowledged the importance of tending to the needs of children. In late July, Weathering the Storm hosted a children's day camp called Operation Grief Relief - a program designed by a regional counseling center. The 18 kids who attended spoke with counselors, listened to a meteorologist discuss storms, and learned about preparedness and hope.

Generosity abounds in the recovery process across Indiana. Huiett sees the Lord's grace in those who assist CIIDRO and the affected families. "So many businesses are donating things we need - like warehouse space and building supplies," she said. "The good Lord has gone ahead of us and prepared people."

And in Marengo, Wallace feels the same. "It's been a remarkable thing," he said. "People really care."

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