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Iowa United Methodists respond to storms, floods

Volunteers in Cedar Falls, Iowa, stack sandbags June 10 as the Cedar River rises
to a record-high 102 feet and forces residents to evacuate.
UMNS photos by Patsy Lynch, FEMA.

By Arthur McClanahan*
June 13, 2008 | DES MOINES, Iowa (UMNS)

Severe storms and rising floodwaters in Iowa have forced thousands of residents from their homes and shut down numerous roads as United Methodist disaster recovery leaders provide support amid potentially staggering long-term needs.

The emergency situation was changing nearly as quickly as the waters flowing in the Des Moines, Skunk, Raccoon, Iowa, Cedar and other rivers across the state. Nine rivers were at or above historic flood levels.

Eighty-three of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared disaster areas by Gov. Chet Culver as of June 13. National disaster designation by the Federal Emergency Management Association covered four counties.

United Methodist leaders were working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief to monitor and respond to the state’s emergency needs.

Bishop Gregory Palmer

"Pray and faint not," Bishop Gregory Palmer said in a message of encouragement from the church's Iowa Area. "Remember when you pass through the waters, God will be with you."

In Cedar Rapids, more than 100 city blocks were underwater, forcing the evacuation of a downtown hospital and its 176 patients. In Des Moines, 100 miles to the southeast, officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for much of downtown and other areas bordering the Des Moines River.

The 188,000 United Methodists in Iowa have struggled right along with their neighbors. Many basements not flooded were seeping water because of the hydraulic pressure on foundation walls and floors. Sandbags were piled high around houses and businesses.

Even the Hilton Coliseum on the Iowa State campus in Ames, the site of the just-concluded 2008 session of the United Methodist Iowa Annual (regional) Conference, had flood barriers in place during the four-day gathering.

The latest flooding is poised to surpass the "hundred-years flood" that ran roughshod across Iowa in 1993, leaving Des Moines without water for 10 days after the Water Works was breached. Crops were destroyed, and businesses closed as U.S. President Bill Clinton flew in to inspect the damage personally.

Just 15 years later, the "200-500 years flood" has closed four bridges connecting the east and west sides of Des Moines. A levee gave way on June 12, unleashing a torrent of water into downtown Cedar Rapids and forcing evacuation of nearly 4,000 homes.

The town of Vinton lost power and a 15-block area was evacuated as the river there was expected to crest nine feet above flood stage. Residents in Chelsea and Palo were evacuated as well.

Poignant stories

Numerous interstates and highways were shut down and telecommunications was significantly affected.

Three of the eight district offices of the church's Iowa conference were without phone and Internet service on June 12, and one office was completely without power. Even so, conference superintendents stayed busy calling pastors and contacting congregations so that updated lists of churches affected could be posted. One communication from the northwest part of the state indicated at least a quarter of the congregations were suffering significant problems.

There are poignant stories. One pastor, whose parsonage was destroyed by an EF-5 force tornado just two weeks ago, had bundled up her remaining possessions for storage in the garage of the parsonage in an adjacent town. She has now lost everything because that neighboring "safe haven" has been flooded.

Another pastor rushed to the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in the Loess Hills area because an EF-3 tornado on June 11 devastated the campgrounds where 93 youths, ages 14 to 18, and 25 adults were engaged in a weeklong leadership-training event. Four teenagers died, and 40 others were injured.

City workers in Waterloo, Iowa, distribute sandbags to residents on June 12.

The tragedy brought responses from scouting ministries elsewhere in The United Methodist Church.

"Our prayers are with the families of these young scouts who are now suffering the loss of loved ones," said Larry Coppock, national director of scouting ministries for the Commission on United Methodist Men. “The 12th point of the Scout Law is 'A scout is reverent.' Now is the time to pray for God's healing power for these families as well as the Boy Scout staff and volunteer leaders in the camp and local council."

The United Methodist Publishing House dispatched 125 copies of the Boy Scout edition of the devotional book Strength for Service to God and Country to Iowa for distribution to every Scout, staff member and leader present at the Little Sioux ranch. The district Boy Scouts liaison was facilitating the distribution to ensure delivery.

UMCOR to assist

Marcia Young, the disaster response coordinator for the Iowa conference, was working with interfaith partner relief groups and UMCOR to provide support with both immediate emergency needs and long-term recovery.

"After everyone else has gone, when people are still putting their lives back together, UMCOR will be there," Young said.

Donations for UMCOR's relief efforts in the Midwest 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.

*McClanahan is the director of communications for the Iowa Annual Conference

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


Bishop Gregory Palmer: "You are not alone."

Bishop Gregory Palmer: "We are overwhelmed by the storms of 2008."

Marcia Young: "Be patient, we are going to need relief."

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