Rain slows KS recovery

BY SUSAN KIM | WICHITA, Kan. | July 20, 1999

WICHITA, Kan. (July 20, 1999) -- "All I need right now is patience," said

Jean Detwiler while rainfall slowed repair work on her home to a crawl.

Detwiler's house in Wichita sustained massive damaged during a tornado on

May 3. Now living with her daughter, she expects to moved back in within

three months -- if the rain will let up.

She's by far not the only one. The tornadoes destroyed 1,100 homes and

damaged 2,500. And recovery is happening at a different pace for each


"Four members of our church lost their homes," said the Rev. Orel Newbrey,

pastor at the Haysville Faith Christian Church. "Some of them are

completely recovered. Others are still wrestling with insurance claims and

unmet needs."

Two interfaith groups, one based in urban Wichita, the other in rural

Haysville, are helping tornado survivors recover. While they coordinate

closely with one another - one Unmet Needs Committee serves for both --

each focuses on its local area to closely match response with people's


Often response workers find out about unmet needs when a frustrated single

mother calls, a caseworker visits a frightened elderly person, or a family

in need stops by.

Tiffany Walker, a volunteer at the South Wichita Recovery Center, said that

people's needs are never exactly the same. "A woman with three children

called. She was 22 weeks pregnant, and her home had been completely

destroyed. She moved into a one-bedroom apartment, but she had no way to

move her stuff from storage into the apartment. That's something no agency

or organization is really set up to handle on any formal level."

Another woman's windshield had a large crack caused by the tornado. She was

financially unable to repair it -- and too frazzled to find a way. "She was

at her wit's end with money. But we were able to call a windshield repair

company that would give her a discount," said Walker, who is a member of

Volunteers In Service To America.

Still, the biggest need is rebuilding and repairing homes, said Sam

Muyskens, who helps manage the recovery center. "We really need donations

of building materials, especially drywall, studs, nails," he said. "And of

course we'll need volunteers to help with the rebuild."

But the ongoing rain has slowed volunteer work as well. "It's hard to keep

plastic on a roof with the rain pelting and the winds whipping around," he


Fifty volunteers from the Amway Corporation traveled from Michigan to

Wichita last week to help repair homes -- and volunteer groups of all kinds

will be needed for a long time to come, said Muyskens. "So many people

didn't have adequate insurance. There is still quite a gap between what

some people need and what they receive."

The center is housed in a gymnasium downtown until September, when school

begins. "Tornadoes kind of jumped over both sides of this gymnasium so it

didn't sustain much damage," he said.

At the Haysville Area Disaster Recovery, 56 youth repaired homes last

weekend, said Director DeeAnn Konkel. Konkel became director of the

Haysville group after volunteering through the Haysville Catholic Church

the day after the tornado. Now the center offices are housed in a school,

with warehouses nearby.

She agreed with Muyskens that the biggest needs currently are materials and

volunteer labor to build and repair homes. But, Konkel added: "And someone

to manage those volunteers -- I need a volunteer coordinator right now."

Muyskens said that two interfaith groups formed because the communities

were so different. "South Wichita has a completely different community

atmosphere," he said. "Congregations don't know each other and pastors

don't know each other."

But they are starting to now, he added. "We'll have a vision for the future

from now on. We're starting to understand the different personalities of

people and of organizations."

Both interfaith groups work with city leaders, police, and county mental

health officials. Caseworkers at both centers said they see people's true

emotions are starting to replace the adrenaline of emergency response.

"People are starting to admit they're feeling overwhelmed," said Nikki

Rogers, a caseworker in Wichita. "The paperwork, the necessary slowness of

the whole process, the hassles are wearing people down."

She said that caseworkers visited a senior citizen's home to talk about how

to cope with fear when storms come. "We tell people it's okay to express

their fear to one another," she said.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee has just completed a needs

assessment in both Wichita and Haysville, is continuing to help coordinate

volunteer teams traveling into the area. Mennonite Disaster Response,

United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran Social Services, and Church

World Service are also assisting with response. The Salvation Army is

storing donations in a 50,000-foot downtown warehouse.

All are working with FEMA officials, local clergy, and city community leaders.

The Red Cross is still meeting on a case-by-case basis with survivors but

was able to close its service centers after dispensing 800 comfort kits,

which contain toiletries and personal items, and 270 clean-up kits. The Red

Cross and Baptist Men served more than 50,000 meals during the storm's

aftermath, and nearly 900 volunteers helped manage the emergency phase of


Posted July 20, 1999

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