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Tornado response continues

Disaster response agencies are uniting to help the thousands of residents affected by last week's deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia.

BY HEATHER MOYER | AMERICUS, Ga. | March 5, 2007

Disaster response agencies are uniting to help the thousands of residents affected by last week's deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia. Calling the damage "widespread," responders say the focus is on both immediate and long-term response.

Tornadoes ripped through both states on March 1, killing 19 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

Americus in Sumter County was the hardest hit area in Georgia, although eight other counties were also affected.

"Sumter County's damage is widespread," said Bob Tribble, president of the Georgia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (GAVOAD). "Baker County saw a damage path about 30 miles long."

Across the affected counties in Georgia, the American Red Cross reports 250 homes destroyed or severely damaged. Another 450 homes had minor damages. Damage assessments were ongoing.

Tribble said he has been meeting with local faith groups and community organizations in several counties to set up long-term recovery organizations.

Sumter, Muscogee, McDuffie, Clay, Crawford, Taylor, Stewart, Baker, and Mitchell counties have all been declared federal disaster areas.

Tribble, who also works for Lutheran Disaster Response of Georgia, said assistance has been pouring in from around the nation. He said finding housing for incoming volunteers is a major goal. LDR may also soon be setting up its specialized camps for children affected by disasters, he said.

GAVOAD members are providing services to affected residents across Georgia. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is sending funds, and members of its national response team are headed to Americus. Georgia Baptist Disaster Response has feeding units and cleanup teams on site in several affected counties.

Samaritan's Purse is deploying staff and supplies as well. The agencies report that debris removal and tree cleanup is a major focus during the initial response.

The local Salvation Army chapter in Americus was destroyed by the tornado, but now has feeding units set up at three nearby locations. The agency is also providing emotional and spiritual counseling to residents.

In southeast Alabama, residents in Enterprise in Coffee County were still reeling from the powerful tornado that hit on the afternoon of March 1, killing eight students at the high school and another resident in the town. The tornado destroyed more than 160 homes and severely damaged another 200. Another 300 homes were affected.

Coffee County received a federal disaster declaration on Saturday after President Bush visited the area and then went on to view the damage in Americus. On Wednesday, Bush expanded the disaster declaration to include five more counties: Dale, Dallas, Henry, Montgomery and Wilcox.

Lutheran Disaster Response of Alabama (LDRA) is setting up a volunteer center at a local Lutheran church with the help of the City of Enterprise, Volunteer Mobile and the Points of Light Foundation.

Mark Johnston said local and national agencies will meet this week to coordinate a local VOAD and discuss long-term response.

"I've met with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Baptists, the Adventists, Methodists and many others - and now we're all waiting for this local meeting," said Johnston, state coordinator for LDRA.

Many of those agencies already have responders on the ground in Enterprise and are sending funds, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Those denominations are also reporting damages to several of their local churches. Many denominations have sent in work teams, including the Southern Baptists and LDR. Agencies such as Convoy of Hope and America's Second Harvest have sent in food and supplies.

Nazarene Disaster Response (NDR) also set up shop at Dothan First Church of the Nazarene. NDR teams spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday doing debris cleanup and tree removal in Enterprise.

"We've been working hard at getting people back to normal," said the Rev. Mark Berry of Dothan First Church of the Nazarene. "Many still don't have electricity and there are power lines and trees down everywhere. Many homes were destroyed or devastated and others had roofs torn off."

Berry said the amazing story is just how much help has poured in from people around the state and the U.S. He said he was also impressed by how well community members have pulled together to help each other. His church is helping members with damage to their homes.

Concerns remain about the long-term mental health of both the high school students and community members due to the number of people killed. LDRA's Johnston said he was working with local mental health agencies on a long-term response plan for the town.

"We'll help build the community up to have their own capacity to do their own mental health plan and then turn it over to them," said Johnston, who also serves on the board of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).

A Church of the Brethren Disaster Child-Care representative was on site to assess the need for child care and other emotional and spiritual support needed for teachers, students, survivors and their families and the families of the victims. Funeral services for the students were held this week.

Disaster responders in Georgia and Alabama continued to urge the public to donate wisely after the tornadoes. Financial contributions continue to be the best way to help, they said, they urged people to call assisting agencies to determine what the needs are before donating any material goods.

Alabama officials were encouraging the public to donate to the state's emergency relief fund. Representatives also urged the people who wanted to volunteer to help to join a responding agency rather than just showing up.

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More links on Tornadoes


Related Links:

Lutheran Disaster Response

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Dothan First Church of the Nazarene - NDR

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