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UMCOR, conferences respond to U.S. storms

An EF4 tornado cut a swath across southwest Missouri on May 10, damaging and destroying dozens of homes in Newtonia as a series of deadly storms also hit areas of Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama. A UMNS photo by Michael Raphael/FEMA.

A UMNS Report
By Susan J. Meister*

May 14, 2008

In an unusually active U.S. tornado and spring storm season, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is working with United Methodist annual (regional) conferences that are establishing recovery ministries.

Tornadoes and severe storms that erupted on May 10 raced across parts of the Plains and the Southeast, battering towns and killing at least 27 people in Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, according to news reports.

"We’ve had one after another down here!" said Karen Benson of the Missouri Conference disaster response team.

Residents of Picher, Okla., sort through rubble left behind from a powerful tornado. A UMNS photo by Earl Armstrong/FEMA.

As of May 12, the conference had eight separate recoveries under way––from two ice storms, three flood events and three tornado systems. The latest storms affected three counties––Jasper, Berry and Newton––in southwest Missouri.

UMCOR has been assisting the conference and is issuing an emergency grant. Additionally, UMCOR consultant Mary Gaudreau will assist with long-term recovery plans.

"We are part of the statewide larger response," said Benson, co-chairperson of the government, faith-based and community partnership. "We are also active with state VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and MIDRO (Missouri Interfaith Disaster Response Organization). Of course, United Methodists will be training long-term response organization case managers."

Benson said several out-of-state teams are ready to assist with debris removal.

Assessments in Oklahoma and Georgia

Tornado damage in Oklahoma was in the northeast part of the state, near the town of Picher, where seven people died in the storms. UMCOR is in close communication with the Oklahoma Conference and is issuing an emergency grant to help launch the recovery. Gaudreau and Karen Distefano, Bartlesville District disaster coordinator, toured the affected areas on May 13 to begin assessments.

"We are really in an emergency stage at this time," said Richard Norman, disaster response coordinator for Oklahoma Domestic Missions. Any response must take into account that Picher is a Superfund site, the location of former lead and zinc mines.

Oklahoma emergency management officials invited state VOAD partners on May 13 to begin sending in early response teams to the area, and Norman said the conference is organizing teams.

The Rev. Brad Brady, superintendent of the Macon District, South Georgia Conference, reported that damage in his area is widespread over many communities. "We’re assessing the damage at this point," he said. "We know that there are lots of trees down on houses and roads, and business areas are destroyed."

The May 10-11 tornadoes were the latest in a busy tornado season. Deadly storms damaged or destroyed homes and knocked out electrical power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia on May 1-2, injuring an estimated 200 people in Virginia and killing seven in Arkansas.

How to help

UMCOR is working with affected annual conferences to meet emergency needs, assess damage and help with the long-term recovery plans.

Donations can be made to Domestic Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or online at www.givetomission.org.

*Meister is domestic disaster response correspondent for UMCOR.

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

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Disaster News Network

Missouri Annual Conference

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South Georgia Annual Conference

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