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After tornado, KS town finds blessings

BY BETH ANN BRADY | HOISINGTON, KS (May 16, 2001) | May 16, 2001

"I really think that the entire senior class graduated with honors, after what they've been through."

—Rev. Wayne Flanders

A typical yearly event -- high school graduation -- seemed like a blessing to people in Hoisington, KS.

Families celebrated not just an educational milestone last weekend but also the fact that

these young people were alive after an F4-strength tornado that struck on prom night

demolished nearly one quarter of the community. The high school -- which sustained

damages of up to $14 million -- hasn't been used since. Seniors attended classes in two

churches and the middle school until they graduated.

"I really think that the entire senior class

graduated with honors, after what they've been

through," said the Rev. Wayne Flanders, pastor

at the First United Methodist Church in


With 182 homes destroyed and many others

uninhabitable until they can be repaired, the

shock of the loss in the town has been offset by

the show of support from volunteers, he said.

"We are a community that really felt the hurt, the

devastation. But we have responded really well. We could not have done it without the

tremendous outpouring of love from so many people, from all denominations."

Since the tornado struck April 21, an average of 60 families have visited a relief goods

warehouse operated by Adventist Community Services (ACS), said John Treolo, director

for the ACS Kansas/Nebraska conference. The center provides nonperishable food items,

toiletries, and household items useful for cleanup.

Treolo added that his organization was thankful for "comfort kits" donated by Church

World Service.

The town has expanded its food bank as well, added Flanders. "We have a community food

bank which formed out of the ministerial association. It is housed in the Methodist church. It

went from one Sunday School classroom to filling a hall with tables of food items," he said.

Many of those affected by the tornado were underinsured, said Flanders. "Some of the

houses were $50,000 homes. In this day and age, you can't purchase or build back a $50,000

home. There will definitely be a gap," he said.

The ministerial association has established a disaster recovery fund to provide financial

assistance for residents who need to repair and rebuild homes. "We're receiving monies and

we will try to assist these families with unmet needs. That's where we're hoping to come in

-- to meet the needs that can not be covered by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management

Agency)," said Flanders.

Flanders is also coordinating volunteer work groups to help with cleanup, rebuilding, and

repair. "Most of the homes that need to be leveled have already been leveled. The cleanup

process is now at the point of using heavy equipment to dig out basements. I was in the

area recently, and I noticed that some places already have wood piled up and piles of

shingles. The volunteers will be able to do the insides of the homes, the dry-walling and


Among those facing the challenge of rebuilding are two of the local pastors, one at a Baptist

and one at a Nazarene church. The clergy were attempting to help the community despite

having suffered severe damages to their own homes, said Flanders. "They were trying to

find housing for their own families. It is doubly hard for them, trying to deal personally

with the disaster and losing their homes and also professionally with their congregation," he


Hoisington's clergy have been offering pastoral care to residents since the night the storm

struck. "The first night, I spent all night trying to comfort the people as they came in. We've

been sending out pastors and trained personnel, walking the area, stopping at houses

where people are working, letting these people tell their stories."

The ministerial association, which comprises several local faith groups, including Catholic,

Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Seventh Day Adventist, and Lutheran churches, was in place

long before the tornado struck Hoisington.

According to Flanders, pastors "have had a very strong ministerial allegiance in the

community. We have met on a regular basis together, we have shared meals together, and

we have broken bread together. We get along very well and we know each other very

well. This is a real advantage in times of disaster."

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