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MO faces second disaster

The deadly tornadoes that tore through Missouri just over a week ago dealt a second blow to many families.


"We're looking at mass care, debris removal and the concerns of any special needs populations."

—Karen Benson

The deadly tornadoes that tore through Missouri just over a week ago dealt a second blow to many families.

Severe storms and tornadoes ripped through many of these same counties in the spring of 2003 - and in some cases the same families were hit again. "This is particularly difficult - we were slammed through here back then," explained Karen Benson, disaster response coordinator for the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"It is the same people who got hit then. Some just got back into their newly built homes within the past six months. I can't even guess how the mental health needs will be now. People may either be remarkably resilient or they'll have a lot of trouble with this."

Multiple tornadoes killed 11 people and destroyed nearly 400 homes the weekend of March 11 and 12. Another 2,800 homes were damaged. According to a Missouri Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) situation report, the damage is spread out across the entire state. Many counties were extremely hard hit.

Disaster responders are still in the emergency response phase, helping to feed affected families and secure volunteers. Benson is busy setting up volunteer reception centers in several counties. "The volunteer reception centers exist for the purpose of making sure we don't have spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers just wandering around or driving in," she explained.

Benson said many counties have requested help setting up the centers, and so teams from Kansas City have come in to train more reception center workers. The teams are also partnering with AmeriCorps workers to staff the centers.

Relief agency representatives are also participating in daily conference calls with the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). "We do these calls everyday to give everyone human service status updates," said Benson. "We're looking at mass care, debris removal and the concerns of any special needs populations."

Also keeping a close watch on the situation is the Missouri Interfaith Disaster Response Organization (MIDRO), added Benson. MIDRO helps cover the costs of unmet needs found by many long-term recovery committees, she said. "They're monitoring the situation right now and trying to focus on what the overall need will look like."

Many counties already have long-term recovery committees, noted Benson, which will help the recovery move along a little more quickly. She said once those are reactivated again, her office will help provide case management training.

Bonnie Vollmering of Church World Service (CWS) is also in Missouri to help long-term recovery agencies get back on their feet again. "Many are still just in the beginning stages - and will soon be holding their first meeting in a while," said Vollmering, a CWS disaster response and recovery liaison. "I'm meeting with them as well and helping organize them in this response to the tornadoes."

She added that it's a good sign that so many counties already have the committees set up, "they already have the capacity, and so it's just a matter of guiding them and encouraging them to continue their work and get more agencies involved. But overall they have a good grasp on things; they know what to do and are doing it."

Vollmering said debris cleanup and removal is the major concern right now in the response, but noted that several shelters are still open and feeding families.

Both Benson and Vollmering said that this disaster also comes on the heels of responding to the thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees still living in the state. Some 16,000 evacuees came to the state last fall, and Benson estimates that 6,000 remain. Agencies like MIDRO are still doing long-term recovery with those families. Vollmering said that capacity of helping the Katrina families may assist the response agencies in now helping the tornado families.

For now, the best way to help those affected by the weekend tornadoes is with a financial donation, said Benson. "But also helpful is making health kits, cleanup kits and flood buckets - those are always very valuable." She added that putting together a volunteer work team to travel to the area this summer would also help.

Christian County lost 127 homes. Counties with 10 to 30 homes destroyed include Johnson, Monroe, Randolph, Hickory, Lawrence, Webster and Morgan. Other counties with significant damage and some home destruction are Carroll, Bates, Henry, Benson, Pettis, Saline, Jefferson, Lincoln, Perry, Cedar, Greene, Newton, St. Clair, Vernon, Iron, New Madrid, Scott, Cooper, Howard, Montgomery, Wright, Boone and Phelps.

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More links on Disaster Recovery


Related Links:

Missouri Interfaith Disaster Response Organization

Church World Service Emergency Response Program

Missouri Emergency Management Agency

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