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United Methodists begin Midwest flood response

Floodwaters partially submerge homes in Dutchtown, Mo., one of many communities impacted by spring floods in Arkansas, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. UMNS photos by Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA.

A UMNS Report
By Susan J. Meister*

March 24, 2008

Many residents in Arkansas are experiencing a "nightmare" as they deal with a series of weather-related systems affecting parts of the U.S. Midwest, according to Maxine Allen.

Families affected by the Feb. 5 tornadoes suffered an ice storm two weeks later and in March were dealing with devastating flooding along a nearly identical track. "People are in a fragile mental state, wondering, 'Why me?'" said Allen, the disaster response and missions coordinator for the United Methodist Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference.

Allen is working with partners and the United Methodist Committee on Relief to assess the needs created by all three events and organize response and recovery.

Residents wait to be evacuated in Missouri.

On March 23, the National Weather Service warned that historic flooding was possible in cities along the path of the White River in eastern Arkansas. According to The Associated Press, at least 17 deaths have been linked to the flooding and other weather effects in parts of Ohio, southern Illinois and Missouri.

"We are in touch with the annual conferences affected by the flooding to provide support as events unfold," said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who leads UMCOR’s domestic disaster response.

In neighboring Missouri, Disaster Response Coordinator Karen Benson is relying on her district coordinators to check in. "Because of past experience in the affected counties, we can anticipate that there will be uninsured and underinsured families who will need our help," she said.

"While it’s really too early to say exactly what we’ll need, we are 'cooking' the recovery picture."

Benson is chairwoman of the Governor’s Disaster Recovery Partnership in Missouri, and the Rev. Mark Dumas is active in the state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. "Lots of United Methodists will be active in this response," she said.

Illinois and Ohio Responses

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference has requested emergency grants from UMCOR to address flooding in both February and March. On Feb. 5 and 6, water inundated Watseka and Pontiac in the northeast part of the conference, prompting a Feb. 24 request. New flooding in southern Illinois from heavy rains prompted a second request on March 20 from Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher.

"Lots of flooding happened on the east side of town, the commercial area. People may be out of work for weeks," said the Rev. Paul Widicus, pastor of Harrisburg (Ill.) First United Methodist Church, where between 9 and 12 inches of rain fell in 24 hours during the week of March 17.

"The Ohio, Wabash and Mississippi Rivers are already at flood stage," he continued. "Next week, many towns will be surrounded by water."

Widicus expects a long summer of cleanup. Like his counterparts in Arkansas and Missouri, he is preparing for the long-term response. "We have an ecumenical group in Harrisburg called Christian Compassion Center. We’ll be able to find families needing help as the response unfolds," he said.

United Methodists can support UMCOR’s flood relief efforts with donations to Advance #901670. Write "Midwestern Floods" on the memo line of the check, and drop in local church collection plates or mail directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Online giving is available at www.givetomission.org.

*Meister is the Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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United Methodist Committee on Relief

Illinois Great Rivers Conference

Missouri Conference

Arkansas Conference

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