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IN town remembers

For residents of Marengo, this year’s Memorial Day had an eerie moment.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MARENGO, Ind. | June 2, 2005

"We’ve had some nasty storms come through the area since the tornado, and you can really sense the tension in people."

—Rev. Bob Wallace

For residents of Marengo, this year’s Memorial Day had a moment eerily similar to last year’s.

Last year’s May 30 tornado struck at 3:45pm. On May 30 this year, an emergency broadcasting network bulletin rang out on TVs and radios across town.

“The tone went off, but thankfully it was unrelated,” said Warren ‘Red’ Hickman, director of Marengo’s Weathering the Storm Unmet Needs Team. “But you could just feel the tension.”

Another traumatic event occurred only two weeks ago, when a chemical tanker truck overturned and most of the town had to be evacuated. The psychological effects on the town from these events and others are lingering.

“To say the least – things like that, well, they have a tendency to make you gun shy,” Hickman said, adding with a laugh, “We’re seriously thinking about just going from April 30 to June 1, and skipping May.”

The Rev. Bob Wallace of Hillview Christian Church agreed about the remaining psychological trauma in the community.

“We’ve had some nasty storms come through the area since the tornado, and you can really sense the tension in people,” he explained. “We’re still a little bit on edge.”

The huge twister may have destroyed 80% of the town’s buildings, but many are already being rebuilt or repaired. Hickman said plenty of positive things have happened in the small southern Indiana town of 850 over the past year.

“It’s starting to look pretty good around here,” Hickman said, noting that some of the remaining severely damaged ‘eyesore’ homes were just recently torn down.

Hickman thanks the tremendous amount of volunteers that have poured into Marengo in the past 12 months for helping the community get to where they are now.

A team of rebuild volunteers from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) arrived in town this week as well – an arrival that is very welcome, Hickman added.

“They’ll be rebuilding five homes and repairing 11 others,” he explained. “They arrived over the weekend, and already they’re working on two of the homes.”

And while the CRWRC volunteers are extremely valuable, even more help is needed. Weathering the Storm has a team of caseworkers that have been helping residents negotiate with insurance companies, find rebuild or repair volunteers, and secure any other resources they need. Downed trees and debris are still a problem for many residents. Others have not yet started rebuilding due to haggling with insurance companies.

Hickman thinks volunteers will be a necessity for at least another year. “We’re still cutting up felled trees, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll be cutting up trees for a long time.”

He added that during one recent tree-cutting expedition to a local park, he and the volunteers found two trees with mattresses stuck in the uppermost branches – about 40 feet up.

Another long-term project is helping the local Cedar Street Baptist Church rebuild. Cedar Street’s old building was a Marengo landmark that the tornado completely destroyed. Volunteers have helped get the framing up for the new building, but a lack of funds has halted the project.

“The big thing there is that we also need experienced help with that,” explained Hickman. “We need folks with a carpentry background, or those that can read blueprints.

“Being a Christian, I don’t believe God brought us this far to leave us.”

Churches across the region have sent in funds and volunteers in the past year, something for which Hickman said he is also very grateful. Another valuable contribution to the recovery process came from a local motel.

“The motel is for sale, but the owner is letting us use the building complete (to house our volunteers),” said Hickman. “I put 26 people up there last week, otherwise they would have had to sleep on a floor somewhere. And he’s letting us use it til we’re done. What a Godsend.”

That kind of generosity will continue to help Marengo rebuild, a process to which the community is committed.

“The townspeople are really pulling themselves up by their bootstraps,” Hickman added. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”

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