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Responders focus on survivor needs

Volunteers respond to storm-torn region as organizations plan longer-term response.


A dizzying cycle of winter storms has left residents of several Midwestern states dazed while disaster responders begin to help with clean up and study the situations to decide what needs to be done next.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 54 people were killed by 77 tornadoes that ripped through 14 states last week. Hundreds were left injured. The cost to rebuild could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Many disaster response organizations are coordinating with local officials in the affected areas and with members of their own organizations across the country, as they make plans to help survivors of last week's spate of severe weather.

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary of The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) said his organization has provided emergency grants to the Tennessee, Holston, Indiana, West Ohio, and Kentucky Annual Conferences. UMCOR has also contacted local volunteers and pastors where the tornadoes ripped up homes, injured and killed people and tore apart communities.

Ruth Reko, the interim director of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) said she is keeping in close contact with her coordinators, but that local volunteers were still helping survivors deal with the spiritual damage caused by the disaster. Assessments of the physical damage were still being made and work on the ground by volunteers with LDR would begin soon.

“Lutheran pastors around Moscow OH gathered about 60 families together last Saturday night,” she said. “They are working to make sure the spiritual care is available.”

Reko said the needs of the spirit are often left behind as families and communities are rebuilt. Without spiritual care, she added, relief efforts are not complete.

Many reported that there have not been the great need for shelters that have been set up in the past. Families and friends have been coming together to open their homes to those whose homes were destroyed and damaged by the storms.

Kevin King of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) said his group has been focusing on the hardest hit areas in Kentucky and Indiana, but that all of the MDS chapters in the Midwest had been activated to go where they are needed when the call comes. Some groups are already headed out to Kansas with tarps and frontend loaders.

“Search and rescue has been discontinued there and these are the do-ers,” he said. “The work is just beginning.

Over the weekend, a storm, bringing three to five inches of snow, blanketed parts of northern Kentucky and southern Indiana, postponing clean up efforts. Work is proceeding as this week goes on.

King said that work to rebuild in areas hit by storms in 2011 are still underway and that volunteers continue to work in the New Orleans area in efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

“We are really a long-term recovery organization,” he said.

Most of the disaster response organizations are making plans to move in for the full rebuilding process once the immediate clean up is done.

Art Opperwall, program manager for Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRCWC), said a small contingent of volunteers are heading to southern Indiana with chainsaws and a tractor so they can begin clearing out debris when they get the word, but that the real work will begin once the initial clean up is done.

“We are going to do some clean up if we can because we can’t just sit back and wait, but we are really prepared for the long term recovery work,” he explained.

In preparation for the work ahead and to help out the families struggling to cope, groups like the Salvation Army are sending food trucks to places like New Pekin, Henryville and Marysville IN where the storms did the most damage in that state.

Deanna LaFerry of the Chattanooga TN chapter of the Salvation Army said that group had sent mobile kitchens to that area to feed first responders and families in need. Salvation Army volunteers would also be offering spiritual support and prayer for those who came to them for food.

Opperwall said all of those who were doing the assessments and who were heading out to begin the work were ready for the job ahead. He said it would take a long time to do the work, but that the rebuilding would be done on both the buildings and the spirits of those whose homes and lives were damaged by the tornadoes.

“We will be working to rebuild whatever needs to be rebuilt,” he said.

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