IN sees hope post-tornado

The recovery continues after last fall's deadly tornado in southwestern Indiana, with some projects bringing hope to area residents.

BY HEATHER MOYER | EVANSVILLE, Ind. | September 20, 2006

The recovery continues after last fall's deadly tornado in southwestern Indiana, with some projects bringing hope to area residents.

In DeGonia Springs, Baker Chapel United Methodist Church now has its walls back up. Destroyed by the tornado last November, the congregation is now excited to see the church being rebuilt by volunteers from across the country. Most recently the church rebuild was assisted by a team from the New York Says Thank You Foundation, which sends out volunteers from the city as a way to say thanks for the help received after Sept. 11.

"Oh, they're overwhelmed by it all," said the Rev. Randy Anderson about the Baker Chapel Congregation. Anderson heads up the Southwest Indiana Long-Term Recovery Committee (SILTRC). "We still have a long way to go on it and more volunteers are needed, but the congregation is excited. They've been without a building since November 6, and so it's exciting to see the future unfolding before them."

The Nov. 6 tornado ripped a destructive path through Evansville and up to DeGonia Springs. More than 20 people died and hundreds of homes suffered damage. The tornado destroyed more than 100 homes. The long-term recovery committee formed in response and Anderson said the overall recovery is in an excellent place now almost 11 months later.

"We've done 1,100 cases," said Anderson of the 35-member recovery committee. "And that's been everything from moving debris to major building. We've had volunteers continuously since November. The recovery has moved very quickly and not everyone expected that, but we're a resilient community."

Anderson said there are lingering cases, but that many of those who were uninsured or underinsured have found fairly permanent housing solutions. "They're mostly taken care of, we've been getting them back into some place they can call their own. We're not sure if many of them can get back to ownership, but we're at least helping them find a place to rent."

For those with insurance, Anderson noted that the big decision now is whether to rebuild. "We still have plenty of empty lots, but at least they're cleaned up."

Another bright spot for some is a new playground in the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park. The majority of the tornado's victims lived there, including several children who died when the mobile homes were leveled.

For Kathryn Martin, knowing that kids can be kids there is a bright spot during a hard time. Martin lost her own son when the tornado struck, as well as her mother-in-law and grandmother. "It's nice hearing the kids playing and laughing and having a good time there," she said. "That's what it was like before the tornado."

Martin and another mother who lost a child spearheaded the playground project with the help of local businesses and volunteers. The park is just under two acres in size and includes a playground, a memorial angel statue and benches to honor those killed by the Nov. 6 tornado. Residents gathered August 12 to dedicate the playground and Martin says the only finishing touches remaining for the park are some sod and the irrigation system.

She added that being able to work so closely with another person who'd lost loved ones was cathartic. "Even though our experiences were similar, we also noticed many differences," Martin explained. "It helped having different views. And now it's nice to have the park completed, it's a bit of a relief."

Responders agree that the psychological toll is still being seen amongst the affected residents. Anderson said several counseling groups still meet regularly and that counselors are still helping many individuals as well. Still others are making sure the rescue workers who responded first to the devastated areas are getting the care they need.

"I think the ones who may be having the hardest time coping are the rescue people," said Debbie Burns, president of the Nov. 6 Memorial Committee of the SILTRC. "I think a lot of those rescue people are stagnant now because of what they saw. Some had to carry out children's bodies. That was the hardest."

Burns' committee is busy preparing the events for the one year anniversary ceremonies on Nov. 6. Memorial services and a memorial booklet honoring those who have helped the area recover are planned. Burns said the Evansville region remains strong and came together well after the tornado.

"Survivors are still scared of storms - especially the children. Some don't want to sleep or they have nightmares, but they're working through it. It's difficult, but everyone is slowly beginning life again in a new way."

That new way of life includes some bright spots coming from a dark time. Anderson said the community is tighter and that SILTRC members have built valuable and lasting relationships. "It's amazing to see everyone working together. We were all on our own before, but this brought us all into focus together. In that regard it was good for us, many of us made connections we never would've had, but we sure don't want to have to do it that way again."

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Related Links:

New York Says Thank You Foundation

Details on the Baker Chapel UMC reconstruction


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