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Interfaith group to help Fort Worth tornado survivors


ARLINGTON, TX (April 13, 2000) -- An interfaith tornado recovery

group has been created to help tornado survivors rebuild their homes

and their lives.

Emergency Assistance Tarrant County (EATC), an existing program of

Catholic Charities, has now added an ecumenical tornado recovery

committee to its programs. Since EATC centers were already set up

in the area, it was most efficient to set up the tornado recovery group

within that structure, said Norm Hein, a Church World Service disaster

resource facilitator.

Although the EATC program will assist with bookkeeping, administrative

efforts, and facility space, the committee itself is ecumenical, and

will be funded by different denominational groups, Hein added.

"Together, we discovered that there are pockets of vulnerable

populations" that suffered damage from the twisters, he said. The group

has agreed to meet weekly.

The committee is, in part, an outgrowth of local church response that was

both rapid and longer-term. There are hundreds of survivors whose

homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by tornadoes which hit Fort

Worth last month.

Ed Dureus, pastor of outreach and pastoral care at Cornerstone

Baptist Church of Arlington, said he has visited and prayed with 30

families, whose homes were severely damaged by a twister which

rendered more than 100 homes uninhabitable in a south Arlington

middle-class subdivision.

"It was the longest 27 seconds I lived," said Dureus. He and others

were meeting at the church when a twister hit less than a half-mile

north. A hail and windstorm preceded the tornado. "I thank God for

preserving our lives," he said.

Later that evening he visited Andre and Wanda Knox, whose house on

Chasemore Lane was heavily damaged. Winds took the roof off the

garage smashing a car beneath the rubble. The family evacuated the

house and lived in a motel for more than a week, then moved to a

nearby apartment.

Cornerstone's outreach ministry offered immediate help and spiritual

support to families whose homes were devastated. The church provided

food, incidentals, and cash donations to get survivors through the

first few days of their ordeal. Since then, pastors and volunteers

have checked on families regularly.

"Getting over the shock of losing their homes is the primary problem

(of the survivors)," said Dureus. "Many have worked hard for their

dream home. Some are immigrants from other countries and this is their

first house. They are devastated."

The 2,000-member church will concentrate on counseling that bolsters

survivors through the process of rebuilding their homes, while they

restore their belongings and lives, said Dureus. "Emotionally struck,

many were shaking and crying," he said.

Following up with survivor families is like counseling people who have

had a loved one die, said Dureus. A couple of families are grieving

even more deeply than most because they had recently lost loved ones

right before the storm. One mother just experienced the suicide of her

15-year-old son last month.

But there is also joy. Because of the church‚s intervention in their

lives, the Knox family has joined the Cornerstone church. Dureus said

their children, Brian, 12, and Andrea, 10, were baptized last Sunday.

Dozens of other churches also positively intervened in the lives of

their neighbors following the tornadoes in Fort Worth. One of those was

First United Methodist Church downtown. The tornadoes skirted that

church, but its neighbors weren‚t so fortunate.

More than 200 people living in Hunter Plaza, a public housing unit for

elderly and disabled lower-income residents, were evacuated immediately

from their apartments following the storm. The building was heavily

damaged by the 135-mile-per-hour winds that left downtown looking like

a war zone. Glass from blown-out skyscraper windows showered the

streets below.

Sandy Smith, director of missions for the First United Methodist Church,

said the church was already prepared to help its neighbors through its

mission and outreach ministries to inner-city residents, including a

mission center opened three days a week which provides food and

essential household items.

Church volunteers pitched in the night of the tornadoes to help

evacuate residents. Smith added that, the day after the tornadoes,

several volunteers helped their Hunter Plaza neighbors settle into

temporary apartments. "We provided blankets, towels, hygiene kits,

groceries, and clothes." Residents had left their homes with only the

clothes on their backs. Immediately after the storm, the building was

declared unsafe by city housing authorities.

Two days after the tornadoes, when the police opened downtown streets,

the mission center was open for business. Smith said, "We told

everyone that we are here, we are open, and we‚re here to help."

Updated April 17, 2000

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