Relief reaches Kentucky town

BY SUSAN KIM | OWENSBORO, Ky. | January 10, 2000

OWENSBORO, Ky. (Jan. 10, 2000) -- Vicky Liles was waiting tables at

the Moonlite Barbecue when she heard the warning sirens.

Her two boys, 10 and 13, were at home, a block away. "I called and

said 'you kids need to get in the bathroom.'

The restaurant weathered the storm. So did the boys, and the family

was reunited. "When I got there, they were fine," Liles said. "I was

so proud of the way they had prepared themselves, they had brought

chips in there and everything."

Her home will need a new roof. "But my damage is miniscule compared

to most people," she said.

She's right - the tornado that ripped through town Jan. 3 totally

destroyed or severely damaged some 400 homes, and affected nearly

1,700. Miraculously, nobody died. Emergency officials credit the

town's siren warning system, which was revamped this year.

But the tornado's toll -- and the quarter-mile wide, 20-some mile

long diagonal it cut across town -- is going to be evident for a long

time. Roofs -- if they're left at all -- are resting at odd angles on

house after house. Piles of debris -- cut tree trunks limbs,

mattresses, clothing, even fully decorated Christmas trees blown from

their stands -- line the yards.

Street and restaurant signs are missing or askew. Pieces of twisted

guardrail rest high in tree branches. Entire walls of homes were

peeled away while adjacent walls still have unscathed paintings

hanging on them.

Blue tarps - temporary replacements for roofs, windows, doors, entire

walls -- flap in the wind. Some are already coming off, and everyone

dreads more rain, especially since some homes won't have power for

another week.

Trauma and pain have come to this close-knit town, which dates back

to the 1700s but has never had a disaster this bad that anyone can


People tell stories of survival at restaurants, gas stations, in

grocery store lines. One woman's neck was broken when she was trapped

under rubble because she was trying to save a pet. The doctor says

she'll recover but it will be a long road.

It will also be a long road for the rest of the town. Liles has been

a waitress at the Moonlite for 22 years -- Owensboro is her father's

hometown -- and she knows just about everybody.

But she's never seen anything like this. Monday, as the Federal

Emergency Management Agency declared Owensboro a disaster zone,

Owenboro's survivors kept doing what they can to help their neighbors.

Liles son's Cub Scout troop cleaned out the park. "I made two big

batches of brownies," she said.

As an American Red Cross service center continues to attempt to meet

people's emergency needs, faith-based response groups are

coordinating a response to address long-term needs.

The Rev. Roger Newell, Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource

consultant, said that, sometimes, disaster response can come down to

"spittin' and whittlin."

"What I mean is, we as the church community first need to learn to

set on the porch and just listen to people. People will tell you

10,000 times where they were and what happened."

Newell knew the tornado touched down minutes after it happened. "My

kids laugh at me for being an old man because I watch the Weather

Channel," he said.

But Newell takes his job -- in Owensboro it's facilitating disaster

response on a local level -- seriously. Monday he met with the Rev.

Amy Spangler-Dunning, a minister at the First Christian Church and

president of the Owensboro Ministerial Association.

Spangler-Dunning received a "crash course" in how an interfaith

committee is formed to respond to a disaster. CWS supports the

organization of interfaith committees across the nation by offering

volunteer consultants -- Newell is one of a nationwide team -- and by

supplying seed money.

Newell wears what he calls "other disaster hats" as well -- he is

chair of the Kentucky Interchurch Disaster Recovery program, a

statewide interfaith committee that could help guide a future

Owensboro recovery effort. He is also a consultant of the United

Methodist Committee on Relief, and pastor at the Parkview United

Methodist Church in Louisville.

Already, many denominations are making appeals for relief funds, and

many people want to help, said Newell, and an Owensboro interfaith

group would help channel those efforts.

Without coordination, efforts to help out can sometimes do more harm

than good -- truckloads of donated goods, for example, with no place

to store them, or volunteers who show up with no place to stay.

An interfaith committee can also generate interest among volunteers

long after a disaster. "The further away we get from the disaster,

the fewer volunteers will want to come in," he said.

But the biggest challenge, he predicts, will be "overcoming the

independent mindset and the 'I'll take care of myself' mentality."

"There is a sense in which Kentucky people have been labeled as

barefoot welfare people. That is not true. Here are hardworking


Even now, shelters are emptying out as people live with family and

friends. "Even in this weather, people would rather put a blue tarp

over their roofs, drag a space heater into the house, and live there

rather than in a shelter," he said.

Spangler-Dunning plans to ask the ministerial association to decide

whether an interfaith group will be created. "I hope they go for it,"

she said. "I hope they have commitment and support."

Newell said he hoped so, too, "because when the emergency services

stop, it's upto the church. We're the church and this is Kentucky,

and people understand that's what the church should be doing."

Posted Jan. 11, 2000

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