PA town sees creative response

The response to the mid-July tornado in Campbelltown has been generous and, at times, very creative.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | September 14, 2004

Camp Noah kids play a game.
Credit: Disaster News Network

The response to the mid-July tornado in Campbelltown has been generous and, at times, very creative.

One church built 20 picnic tables - which originally had some response folks wondering. But then, according to Rev. Dwight Hein of the town's Salem United Church of Christ, all 20 of them were snatched up very quickly by residents. Hein said some people needed the tables to eat on, since their mobile homes had been blown away.

The F-3 tornado that ripped through Campbelltown two months ago destroyed over 30 homes and damaged over 100 others. Hein said he and the area ministerial alliance have yet to meet anyone who didn't have insurance, but they're still helping people meet basic needs until their homes are rebuilt.

So far, the township and the alliance have raised $250,000.

"We're calling it unmet needs funds for things like deductibles, repairs not covered by insurance - for anything that's not covered by insurance," explained Hein. "People having to relocate won't have all the funds they need. There's all sorts of places we expect to see shortfalls."

Hein said the rebuilding process is moving along slowly, with some residents not expected to be back in their repaired or rebuilt homes until February or even next July. That's causing some frustrations. "The stress levels are high and people are frustrated at the lack of progress in some cases."

The area churches have been doing a great job with spiritual care, Hein said, and the local mental health community has been very helpful when they're needed to take referrals. Many residents have questions about why the tornado hit and what if it happens again. Hein added that kids are also facing the same issues, and even his three-year-old has been asking questions.

"When storms come through, he asks if the house will be okay. And with all the hurricanes, he's asked if we'll ever have to evacuate."

To assist parents and youth workers in handling kids' emotions, the alliance called in the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to do a workshop. Not only did we learn from the event, said Hein, but we can also pass on the information to others.

The members of the ministerial alliance have been working almost non-stop since the twister hit town, yet the team is still doing well to check in each other for signs of fatigue and "burn-out." Assistance from each denomination's national organization as well as the monthly ministerial alliance meetings have been other keys to the success of the pastors.

"We were also able to network well around the area, which really helped in the initial weeks," he said.

Hein was recently asked to help interview for a new disaster response coordinator in his conference of the United Church of Christ - a position that he could even take on now with all of his newly learned disaster recovery skills.

"I've learned a lot - and that's a huge understatement," he laughed. "But I do hope to pass on what I've learned to others."

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