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United Methodists respond to storms

Residents pick through the rubble of their home destroyed by a tornado in Huntersville, Tenn. Dozens of tornadoes hit five states in the southeastern United States on Feb. 5, killing at least 55 people and causing widespread destruction.
A UMNS photo by Cathy Farmer.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Feb. 7, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Justus Penka, a member of Dover (Ark.) United Methodist Church, helps clear away fallen trees in Atkins, Ark.
A UMNS photo by Bill Reeder.

United Methodists are helping communities in four states recover from a series of tornadoes that killed nearly 60 people in one night.

A rare midwinter storm spawned the tornadoes that struck the U.S. South Feb. 5, flattening homes and businesses. Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky all suffered fatalities, with Tennessee experiencing the highest death toll at 32, according to news reports.

Bethpage (Tenn.) United Methodist Church is collecting donations to help pay for the funeral of a young mother, Karey Beth Stowell, whose infant was ripped from her arms during the deadly rampage. The infant was found and taken to the hospital and is doing well, according to the Rev. James R. Hewgley. Another family in his congregation lost grandparents in the storm.

The church is also serving as a drop-off site for donations to storm victims. "We have a big parking lot, 22 acres, and we can handle big trucks while many other areas are blocked by debris," Hewgley said.

Students reach out

Two United Methodist churches in Tennessee were damaged, but Bill Carr, disaster relief coordinator in the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference said the church was "so blessed."

Macedonia United Methodist Church in Arlington, Tenn., suffered minor damage, and Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church had moderate damage, Carr said.

Many other denominations were not so lucky, he said, citing Baptist-related Union University in Jackson, Tenn., as one of the places heavily damaged. Students were trapped in collapsed dormitories, but no one was killed.

United Methodist-related Lambuth College in Jackson, Tenn., reached out to students and faculty from Union.

"I want to thank all our faculty, staff and students who have volunteered to help Union," said R. Fred Zuker, president of Lambuth. "I am especially grateful to those students who prepared rooms and stood by to welcome any Union students who sought refuge on our campus. This effort is indicative of our students' character and their generosity of spirit."

The Rev. Thomas Bullock, pastor of Dyer United Methodist Church, and his wife, Betty, were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator they were using after the storms knocked out electricity. Both were expected to be released from the hospital Feb. 7, Carr said.

A ‘windshield assessment’

In Alabama, Upper Sand Mountain Parish Director Teddy Crum reported that "at least 16 families in our area lost their homes completely while others suffered major damages to homes." The Upper Sand Mountain Parish, a cooperative of nine United Methodist churches in the northeastern part of Alabama, is working along with the Mountain Lakes District and North Alabama Conference to coordinate relief efforts in its ministry area.  

Kevin Conrad (left) and Bill Carr stand outside tornado-damaged Andrews
Chapel United Methodist Church in
Jackson, Tenn.
A UMNS photo by Cathy Farmer.

The Rev. Charlie Douglas, who inspected the hardest-hit areas in Kentucky, said all the damage is centered in four counties, with Muhlenberg reporting the worst damage. Douglas said 150 to 175 homes in three communities in that county were destroyed.

"In a windshield assessment, I would say about 20 percent of the families that lost homes in that area are without insurance," he said.

First United Methodist Church in Central City, Ky., is serving as a distribution point for a shelter close to the church.

"Right now, we just need help removing debris," Douglas said.

Arkansas: Major disaster area

Injuries and extensive property damage were reported in 10 Arkansas counties. The hardest hit communities were Atkins, Cleveland, Clinton, Ash Flat, Highland, Mountain View, Zion, Junction City and Gassville.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief issued a $10,000 emergency grant to help with the Arkansas Conference’s initial response. President Bush declared Arkansas a major disaster site and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

Churches across the state are serving as collection sites for supplies such as water, blankets, ready-to-eat foods, personal care items and cleaning products.

The homes of several United Methodist church members in affected area were damaged, a few church members suffered minor injuries and one was reported in serious condition. Damage to United Methodist property was relative light. The Junction City United Methodist Church reported extensive roof damage to its sanctuary and education building. Mount Eagle Christian Center had numerous trees downed across its 1,000 acres.

UMCOR responds

UMCOR is working with the areas affected by the storm and has sent out some emergency grants, said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, the agency's domestic disaster coordinator.

Christy Smith of Brownsville, Tenn., near Jackson, is coordinating UMCOR’s response to the tornadoes.

Checks for relief can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write "UMCOR Advance #901670, Super Tuesday Tornadoes" on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or be clicking on any of the "Give Now" links at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor online.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Jane Dennis in Arkansas and Danette Clifton in North Alabama contributed to this report.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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