United Methodists rush to help in wake of storms
By United Methodist News Service*United
Methodists are helping pick up the pieces, clean up debris and cope
with devastating losses that occurred in a weeklong series of tornadoes
and severe storms that began May 4.
Tom Hazelwood of the United
Methodist Committee on Relief emergency services office in Washington
visited affected areas of Missouri and Kansas May 8 and 9. UMCOR
volunteers Bob and Cherri Baer are working with the Kansas East
Conference disaster response coordinator, Julie Pohl, and Missouri
disaster response coordinator, Joe Bartlesmeyer.
killed at least 18 people in Missouri, 13 in Tennessee and seven in
Kansas. Two people were killed and at least seven injured May 6 in
southern Illinois in a second round of severe storms. Flooding took at
least two lives in Tennessee.
The Oklahoma City area's evening
rush hour May 8 became another setting of devastation as at least one
tornado did widespread damage and injured 118 people.
continuing volatility of the weather brought tornado warnings in several
of the hardest-hit states again and again during the week. Torrential
rains led to widespread flooding, and hail caused additional damage.
Volunteers in Mission teams in Dyersburg, Tenn., ducked for cover when funnel clouds disrupted cleanup efforts.
Church members killed
southeast Kansas, Julie Gay Green, 50, of rural Columbus, died when a
tornado struck her home May 4. She was a member of First United
Methodist Church of Columbus and a nurse at St. John's Regional Medical
Center in Joplin, Mo. Her husband and two of her five children were
seriously injured. Rescuers said the tornado had apparently dropped the
family members in a field a quarter of a mile from home.
Green, two other residents of Cherokee County were killed. In adjacent
Crawford County, the four fatalities included Josephine Maghe, 87, of
Franklin, Kan. A member of Arma (Kan.) United Methodist Church, Maghe
was the one who organized expressions of sympathy when a death occurred
in her community. She would ask the postmaster to put up a notice when
someone died. Now the post office and dozens of homes are gone.
County in the Kansas City, Kan., area reported 88 homes destroyed and
nearly 500 more damaged. The Rev. Rob Schmutz of Wyandotte United
Methodist Church spent the first three days of the week loading the back
of his pickup truck with beverages, food and cleaning supplies and
delivering them to residents and workers in the damaged areas.
(Mo.) United Methodist Church canceled youth group meetings and bell
choir practice when warnings were sounded, and everyone was sent home.
When the Rev. Russell Maggard checked on the church building, he found
two walls of the sanctuary were knocked out, and the family life center
looked as if it had been under artillery fire. Despite that, people who
lost their homes were able to take temporary shelter in the church.
church basement was leaking like a sieve due to damage to the roof and
walls, but we still kept people down there until about midnight,"
Maggard said. By then, roads had been cleared enough that the people
could be evacuated to a nursing home for the rest of the night.
John Cassel, a church member, was killed when his home was destroyed. His funeral was held May 8 at the Assembly of God church.
Pierce City, Mo., the Rev. Crystal Wicks, 72, and her husband Jim, 76,
lived in a downtown loft apartment above an antique shop and percussion
museum they owned. When the tornado hit, they were in a small area
between two 19th-century buildings. Both structures were blown away.
all of the glass and everything flying around, we came out of it
without a scratch on us," Crystal Wicks said. The couple lost everything
they had except the clothes they were wearing. "We just thank God we're
alive," she said.
Others from the 35-member United Methodist
church also lost their homes, but no one was seriously injured. The
134-year-old church survived with damage to the roof, siding and a
window. A metal cross atop the steeple was twisted and bent over.
Carl Junction (Mo.) United Methodist Church, near Joplin, about 20
people who were in the church for various events took shelter in the
bathrooms. When they emerged, they discovered the roof of the 7-year-old
building was gone.
"About every church in the district called to
offer us their facilities and support," said the Rev. Bob Simon, 70,
interim pastor. "Methodist churches and their pastors really responded
The next day, the Rev. Tony Blevins and his wife,
Frieda, saw the damage. Blevins expects to be appointed to the church
this summer. He and the district superintendent met with about 50 of the
church members that night to begin planning the reconstruction.
"Everyone was very positive and forward looking," Tony Blevins said.
Monett, Mo., Alma Villagrana, the United Methodist missionary for the
Hispanic Mission of Barry County, said a church family had lost its
home, as had others.
"We're doing what we can to help everyone in
the community," Villagrana said. The church is cooperating with others
to channel aid, and it is providing shelter to those in need.
other states experienced weather-related problems. Tornadoes destroyed
homes in Arkansas on May 4. At least three tornadoes touched down in
South Dakota, and one damaged homes in Mississippi on May 5. Nebraska
also had scattered damage from several tornadoes.
Kentucky saw minor damage from tornadoes that touched down May 4, and
severe thunderstorms caused 24,000 homes and businesses to lose electric
power the next day during the morning rush hour. Iowa was one of
several states that had flooding.
Historic CME church hit
Jackson, Tenn., the historic Mother Liberty CME Church was destroyed,
but members and friends took heart that the faÃ§ade remained standing.
They hope to incorporate that in rebuilding.
Mother Liberty is
home to the original congregation of the Christian Methodist Episcopal
Church. African-Americans who attended nearby First Methodist Church
were among the first CME members. The CME congregation conducted its
early services and meetings in the basement of what is now First United
First United Methodist Church sustained damage
that one member estimated may cost more than $1 million to repair.
Northside United Methodist Church in Jackson had extensive hail and
water damage. The Keys Chapel (Tenn.) United Methodist parsonage was
Volunteer teams, including workers organized through
UMCOR, are helping throughout the affected states. United Methodists
have been present, too, through their dollars. Past donations to UMCOR
made possible the two emergency grants already awarded to the Memphis
and Missouri annual conferences by May 8. Other grants are expected.
Cleaning supplies were being shipped to Missouri from the Illinois-Great
Rivers Conference Warehouse in Springfield, Ill.
Methodists can give to the newly created Advance Special No. 901690,
"Spring Storms 2003." Checks may be put in collection plates or sent to
UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card
contributions are accepted at (800) 554-8583.
# # #
* Fred Koenig,
editor of the Missouri Review; Karen Robertson, editor of the Kansas
East Connection; and the Rev. Joe Moseley and Cathy Farmer of the
Memphis Annual Conference, contributed to this story.
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