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United Methodists begin Kansas tornado response

The Rev. Gene McIntosh, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Greensburg, Kan., and his wife, Judy, look at the church building destroyed by the tornado. Photo by G. Marc Benavidez, courtesy of The Wichita Eagle.


A UMNS Report
By the Rev. Kathy Noble*
May 8, 2007


An aerial view shows how the May 4 tornado devastated the church building. Photo by Jaime Oppenheimer, courtesy of The Wichita Eagle .

"It is just painful," the Rev. Gene McIntosh said.

The pastor of Greensburg (Kan.) United Methodist Church choked back tears and shook his head in disbelief as he saw, for the first time, the church's tornado-shattered building with its cross-topped steeple gone, its sanctuary exposed and pews filled with debris.

McIntosh, his wife, Judy, and their children had seen similar scenes elsewhere in town on May 5 while accompanying an NBC News reporter on their first tour of the ravaged community.

At least 10 people died when an F-5 tornado – with winds of more than 200 miles per hour – struck Greensburg late in the evening of May 4, destroying 90 to 95 percent of the residences and commercial buildings in the town of 1400 people. The community has been declared a disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Greensburg parsonage, where the McIntosh family rode out the storm in the basement, was "still standing, sort of," said McIntosh who is completing his fourth year as pastor there. The family spent the rest of the night in a shelter in nearby Haviland and is now staying with relatives in Hutchinson.

The rural homes of several members of the Trousdale United Methodist Church, which is in nearby Trousdale, also were destroyed as the same 1.3-1.7-mile-wide tornado that hit Greensburg cut a 22-mile swath across southwest Kansas.

On the following night, May 5, another tornado struck, killing two more people and damaging buildings, including the Trousdale church. Church members gathered at the building on Sunday morning, May 6, to salvage the altar, piano and some furniture. They plan to worship May 13 at the home of a member. The Rev. Elaine Lord, Trousdale pastor, said the congregation has a strong and positive spirit and is determined to go on.

The United Methodist response to the disaster began by mid-morning on the day after the first tornado hit. McIntosh and Lord were making calls to their parishioners, while the United Methodist Committee on Relief released an emergency grant of $10,000 to the denomination's Kansas West Annual (regional) Conference.


Kansas Area Bishop Scott J. Jones issued a special appeal for the Kansas Area Disaster Fund, asking area churches for special Sunday offerings as the severe weather season continues. Much of Kansas is also experiencing flooding as a super cell weather system continued to generate severe thunderstorms.


The Rev. Gene McIntosh touches the cross that stood atop the church where he has been pastor four years. Photo by G. Marc Benavidez, courtesy of The Wichita Eagle.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Greensburg and the surrounding areas, and our assistance is on the way," said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which includes UMCOR. "The strong, resilient people of Kansas will weather this storm, and we are glad we can be a part of the recovery."

UMCOR is providing on-site support through UMCOR disaster consultant Cherri Baer, who is working with Nancy Proffitt, Kansas West disaster response coordinator, to mobilize the response when volunteers are allowed into the community. As of May 7, access to Greensburg was limited to residents and a small number of disaster responders.

Plans are under way for United Methodist volunteers to staff a liquids trailer provided by the conference's Salina District, a hot foods trailer from the Hutchinson District and a tools trailer from the Wichita East District.

Volunteers were welcome to clean up debris and downed trees in other communities that were in the path of the storms. Organizers say people also will be needed to walk fields to remove debris that can severely damage farm machinery.

To contribute financially, drop checks in local United Methodist church offering plates with "UMCOR Domestic Disaster Advance #901670" written in the memo line or made payable to UMCOR and sent to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Contributions also may be made online at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/emergencies/ or by calling (800) 554-8583.

To send checks to the Kansas Area Disaster Fund, make checks payable to Kansas West Conference and indicate "Area Disaster Fund" on the memo line. Mail to Kansas West Conference, 9440 E. Boston St., Suite 110, Wichita, KS 66207. Arrangements are being made for online donations.

To volunteer, visit the Kansas West Conference Web site at www.kswestumc.org or Kansas West Village at www.7villages.com/kansaswestconference.

*Noble is editor of Interpreter, a publication of United Methodist Communications and the official ministry magazine of The United Methodist Church. This report was compiled with the assistance of Lisa Elliott Diehl, director of communications for the Kansas Area.

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

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