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'Life' celebrated following tornado

BY SUSAN KIM | LYONS, PA | June 11, 1998

LYONS, PA (June 11, 1998) -- The roar of freight trains on an east-west route through town was once

commonplace for the 400 residents of Lyons, Pa. But now the passing trains

makes many of them remember the roar of the tornado that ripped a 12-mile

path of destruction through Lyons June 2, damaging 70 homes and displacing

67 people. Four homes have been torn down, and on June 8 the county was

declared a federal disaster area.

The small community of independent farmers, located 20 miles north of

Reading in south-central Pennsylvania, is determined to rebuild and go on.

But people still wander Lyons' country roads searching for lost items, and

for a lost sense of security.

Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Services, the United Church

of Christ, Berks County Emergency Management Agency, the American Red

Cross, GPU Energy, local churches, and police and fire departments have

united in a disaster response effort headquartered in the Lyons Fire Hall.

"Our upstairs looks like a K-Mart," said Kerry Loy, fire hall president.

"We're loaded with food and cleaning supplies."

For several days after the tornado hit, disaster response organizations fed

300 people per day at the firehouse and provided clothes, toys for

children, cleaning supplies, paper goods, and personal items. On the Sunday

following the tornado, 250 Lyons residents -- more than half the community

-- gathered for a "Celebrate Life" service at Hope Lutheran Church in

nearby Bowers. In the wake of destruction that, miraculously, took no lives

and caused only minor injuries, on June 7 area residents also celebrated

high school and college graduations, and several churches held confirmation


"After taking care of repairs to homes and cleaning up the town, we are now

opening up discussion opportunities for loss, grieving, and pain," said

Pastor Frederick Holst of Hope Lutheran Church. "Professional counselors

from the Family Life Services of The Lutheran Home in Topton will be using

our facility to serve the community in the next few months."

Berks County is also offering two "Talklines" that offer phone counseling

to adults and youth.

Two local businesses, an automobile dealer and a restaurant, have started a

disaster relief fund that now totals $30,000. Pastor Dennis Ritter, St.

Johns Lutheran Church, oversees the fund, which provides $300 cash up front

to homeowners and renters who have suffered loss. "I've written over 118

vouchers, primarily for people who are uninsured or underinsured," said

Ritter. "With minimal paperwork, they can find a sense of abundance and

security. This is a quick, tangible way of letting people know we care."

The fund is expected to reach more than $60,000.

The National Penn Bank and First National Bank are also managing disaster

relief funds, as well as offering low-interest loans to help finance home

repair. GPU Energy is waiving late payment fees for those displaced by the

storm, and a group of nine local accounting firms are offering free

financial consulting for residents.

The Mennonite community launched a "barn-raising" effort within 24 hours

after the tornado. "The Mennonite homes were for the most part uninsured,"

said Eleanor Focht, member of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in nearby

Kutztown. "So there was no need for them to wait for insurance adjusters.

They gathered together and replaced roofs and entire barns within 24


Pastor Diane LeFauci, St. John's Lutheran Church, said that, while

rebuilding is beginning, residents are still coming to terms with their

loss. "Some folks are still in denial," she said. "The stress on the

community is great. The children have tremendous separation anxiety.

Counseling will be greatly needed."

Lyons resident Ann Burrows describes the disaster response effort as

"neighbors helping neighbors." A member of the Heart-and-Home Quilters

Guild, which donated $1,000 to help disaster survivors, Burrows lost only a

few shingles off her roof. "People came out of the woodwork to help -- I

mean, from the police to the Red Cross to local churches to the Mennonite

community, people simply took off work, walked down the street, and asked

what they could do to help."

Mary Ann Serio, church secretary for St. John's United Church of Christ,

spent the week following the tornado on the phone and walking the streets

trying to meeting more unique needs that disaster response efforts can't

cover. "Whatever people need -- from a crib to a prescription -- I try to

get for them," she said.

David Blitch, campus pastor at Kutztown University, said he is amazed at

how quickly the community responded. "After the tornado, it looked like a

disaster zone. It looked like a war," he said. "Now, the town is cleaned

up. There are a lot of people looking forward. It's a process where first,

you're in shock, then you start looking ahead."

Another small, south central Pennsylvania community, Ninepoints, rallied

after a tornado demolished two houses and damaged eight others shortly

after midnight on May 30. The American Red Cross, Mennonite Disaster

Services, United Church of Christ, Amish community, and other local

churches provided relief for disaster survivors victims in this community

with a population less than 100.

"Many Amish farms had twisted silos," said the Rev. Ira Fordna of Mt.

Pleasant United Methodist Church in nearby Christiana. "It was really

neighbor helping neighbor. The Red Cross provided immediate food and water,

then we all went to work rebuilding."

Steve Yoder, charter member of the Bart Mennonite Church since 1950 and

owner of Greentree Sharpening Service, sharpened chain saws for free in the

wake of the storm so that his neighbors could remove toppled trees and

limbs from roads and farms. "I have never seen anything quite as

devastating," he said.

Posted June 11, 1998

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