Relief groups planning response for Owensboro

BY GEORGE PIPER | OWENSBORO, Ky | January 6, 2000

Disaster relief groups are planning responses in storm-damaged Kentucky, where tornadoes and high winds on Monday damaged more than 1,000 homes.

Church World Service is assessing needs via its network of disaster resource consultants, including Roger Newell, a Kentucky-based disaster resource consultant and a member of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Newell met Wednesday in Owensboro with the local ministerial association president and expects to meet again next week to begin planning an interfaith response. He said he is also assessing damages in Crittenden and Webster counties. Though damage in those areas is light compared with Owensboro, Newell expressed concern that those affected could be left with large unmet needs. "That's a pocket of folks that we might need to keep an eye on," he said.

Relief work is proceeding well in the early stages, Newell said, adding that disaster relief representatives from UMCOR, Mennonite Disaster Services, and the Southern Baptist Convention have already visited Owensboro. He also credited the Salvation Army and American Red Cross with providing needed food and shelter to survivors.

Newell's initial estimate is that recovery could take two to three years. The disaster impacted a strong working class neighborhood in Owensboro, while the damage is spread across rural areas in Crittenden and Webster counties.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) sent a $10,000 grant to its local presbytery for relief and recovery, according to Stan Hankins, PDA associate director. Two Presbyterian churches -- one in Crayne, the other in Owensboro -- sustained damage in the storms.

Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) forwarded emergency cash grants to local Lutheran churches providing outreach to survivors, reported Gil Furst, LDR director.

LDR is currently accepting cash donations for disaster relief and recovery, and also expects to participate in anticipated interfaith efforts in the area.

Locally, the Salvation Army of Owensboro is feeding survivors and emergency workers and getting ready to distribute cleanup items, paper supplies, and nonperishable foods, said Capt. Art Fultz. Site and mobile feeding units

will continue to operate at least through the week's end.

The organization has plenty of supplies and materials, Fultz said, and is encouraging donations in the form of cash so that vouchers can be issued to survivors instead of keeping a large supply of materials on hand.

Despite the high amount of property damage, the human toll was relatively light. One person died while driving in a flooded area, and 22 people suffered injuries.

As assessments continue, local emergency officials are beginning to get a clearer picture of the damage.

In Owensboro/Daviess County, where most of the damage occurred, surveys indicate 111 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 257 homes had major damage, and 1,100 homes had minor damage, according to Walter Atherton, deputy director of Daviess County Emergency Management. In addition, three county schools sustained damages totaling $4.2 million.

Cleanup crews made streets passable by Wednesday, although utility crews continue to try restoring power to some 4,000 homes. Complete electrical service is not expected until Jan. 10, making for uncomfortable winter days in some areas. "We've still got people without power and heat in the southern part of town," Atherton said.

Local emergency officials will work with secular and faith-based disaster relief officials to formulate relief and recovery plans, said Atherton, adding that four semi-truck loads of relief supplies arrived earlier this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also is conducting assessments to see if the disaster qualifies for federal funding. Atherton believes the damage will fall below FEMA's assistance guidelines, meaning a

greater reliance on local resources for recovery.

That self-reliance is already in effect in the cleanup phase, Atherton noted. "The nice thing is to see neighbors helping neighbors without waiting for the outside help," he said.

In nearby Crittenden County, up to 200 homes may have sustained damage with about 40 completely destroyed as assessment teams continue to record the toll. Rural areas took a hit as well, with more than 50 farm buildings

having major damage.

Also, Webster County reported 30 houses and mobile homes destroyed or with major damage, mainly near the unincorporated community of Diamond.

The commonwealth is under a state of emergency in all storm-damaged areas, and the governor's office requested federal assistance for survivors and communities.

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