NM towns work on tornado recovery

Unmet needs council helps affected families

BY HEATHER MOYER | CLOVIS, N.M. | May 10, 2007

Tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 500 structures in eastern New Mexico on March 23.
Credit: Erinn Burch/United Way of Eastern New Mexico

Tornadoes tore a path of destruction through Clovis on March 23.
Credit: Erinn Burch/United Way of Eastern New Mexico

For families affected by tornadoes in eastern New Mexico who do not have insurance and cannot get assistance from government sources, the Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council is offering its help.

Erinn Burch, council vice chairman, said the organization does not want to duplicate efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or state resources.

"We want those (agencies) to do the best job they can do so that we can take care of things that only our funds can do," said Burch, who also serves as executive director of the United Way of Eastern New Mexico.

"FEMA can only do certain things, and if we do those things too, who will take care of the other problems," she asked.

FEMA has received more than 500 registrations in Curry and Quay counties, home to the tornado-ravaged towns of Clovis and Logan, respectively. The March 23 tornadoes damaged or destroyed an estimated 500-plus structures.

The recovery council is composed of local churches and social service organizations helping hundreds of families to recover from the tornadoes. Its case managers started work several weeks ago and have taken in some 50 cases so far.

Burch and the Rev. Lance Clemmons, council chairman, said the agency will soon have a better idea of unmet needs when teams from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee arrive in late May to conduct needs assessments in both towns.

"We've not had a lot of people coming in for help just yet," said Clemmons, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Clovis. "There is some reluctance in the Hispanic community because some are afraid of being deported."

Assisting undocumented residents is important to the council, he noted, and it was working with Hispanic city agencies and school workers who already have relationships with some of the families.

"We will help anybody that needs help as a result of these tornadoes," Clemmons said.

He said the council was grateful for help from national partners such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service, Lutheran Disaster Response and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. He added that Mennonite Disaster Service was expected to bring in rebuild teams once the council's building committee and coordinator are in place to organize the projects.

Burch said that although FEMA indicated that a large number of registrants were insured, several hundred cases may come to the council before the recovery is complete, with at least 50 to 100 of them being major.

"If they have 500 registrants and most are insured - even if 200 are left for us to help - that's a lot of families," he said. "It's all a matter of perspective."

For more minor cases, Burch said needs will include helping with car repairs and rental assistance. The council has already helped some families with smaller needs.

Clemmons and Burch said the best way to help the recovery was through financial contributions. Volunteer work teams will be needed once the council has everything in place. Obtaining assistance from local builders has been a challenge, Clemmons said, as a nearby U.S. Air Force base has been reopened and is undergoing a building boom in preparation for more residents.

"A lot of our building folks are already committed," he said. "Some people have called electricians and been told that there's a four-month wait. We can certainly use folks with licensed expertise who can come out here and help."

Clemmons said those licensed in New Mexico were especially needed, since state law requires all plumbing and electrical work to be signed off by workers licensed in the state. He said the council hoped to work out arrangements with the builders' association to secure local skilled volunteers.

Burch said community cooperation in both towns has been successful, noting that many people have come together for the common cause of rebuilding.

"I've been extremely pleased with the amount of people interested in the council," she said. "All the churches and organizations are doing what they can on the ground right now, but they also want to be able to help with the final recovery together.

"It's great, nobody's picking and choosing," she added. "Everybody sees the value of coming together and approaching it as a community rather than two or three organizations handling it all."

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Related Links:

United Way of Eastern New Mexico


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