IA churches help survivors

As damage assessments continue in several Iowa communities struck by tornadoes last weekend, churches are providing help to the affected residents.

BY HEATHER MOYER | STRATFORD, Iowa | November 16, 2005

As damage assessments continue in several Iowa communities struck by tornadoes last weekend, churches are providing help to the affected residents.

An F2 tornado ripped through Stratford Saturday afternoon, destroying more than 20 homes. The small central Iowa city of just under 800 people is finding support at Stratford Lutheran Church.

"At first the community was overwhelmed by the disaster, and now they are overwhelmed by all the help being offered," said Grace Lambert, a member of Stratford Lutheran. "That brought more tears, but they're good tears."

A massive debris cleanup effort was staged from Sunday through Tuesday with hundreds of volunteers.

Lambert said the churches in Stratford have pulled together to help affected residents. A disaster relief fund was set up by the city ministerium, and now representatives from Lutheran Disaster Response are helping the town form a long term recovery committee.

"I would guess there are between 15 and 20 homes that will need to be rebuilt, and there may be more," said Lambert, wife of Stratford Lutheran's pastor. "I think some people had insurance, but just how many remains to be seen. There are others who don't know what they will do yet."

Lambert said the community has come together strongly in the time of need, which goes to show how close everyone was before the tornado struck.

The situation in Woodward is similar. An F2 tornado killed one person in the small community and destroyed as many as 30 to 40 homes. Parishioners at Woodward United Methodist Church (WUMC) are helping prepare meals and serve them to the survivors at the local community center.

"We're right in the middle of the response," said the Rev. Ben Carter-Allen, pastor of WUMC. "We're waiting and seeing what kinds of need the people have. We're also reaching out through our conference to help meet those needs."

Carter-Allen said other Methodist churches in the area are already coming through with help for the families, and the churches are even taking up a special offering for Woodward.

He added that he is watching the emotional needs of the affected residents closely, saying most are still in a state of shock at this point. "I'm pretty sure the next step will be asking why did this happen to us?"

Also on Carter-Allen's mind is touching base with the other churches in town to plan a long term recovery.

Woodward and Stratford were the hardest hit communities from the weekend's tornadoes, but damage was also reported in parts of Ames. The Iowa Department of Emergency Management (IDEM) is still conducting damage assessments.

"Our teams are encountering more damage than they thought they would, but we hope to have the assessments done by the end of Wednesday," said Kara Berg, spokesperson for IDEM.

Berg said assessment teams are covering Dallas, Hamilton, Boone, Story and Webster counties.

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