April’s fertilizer plant explosion affected one-third of the West, Texas community. The explosion damaged or destroyed numerous homes, businesses and apartments, including three schools. Fifteen people were killed and about 200 people were injured.
By Linda Unger*
October 15, 2013—The board of directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) approved last Friday nearly $700,000 in new grants to sustain long-term recovery efforts in localities across the United States still dealing with fallout from tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and an explosion.
During their semiannual meeting at UMCOR headquarters in New York City, the directors approved six grants for ongoing disaster recovery work in five United Methodist annual conferences: Kansas West, Tennessee, Central Texas, New York, and Susquehanna.
Greg Forrester, UMCOR executive in charge of US Disaster Response, said the grants offer a holistic response to overwhelming natural or human-caused events. They have three common pieces, he said, disaster case management, reconstruction, and spiritual and emotional care.
Forrester emphasized, though, that it is the communities themselves that design their recovery plans. “When we go into a community that’s been affected by a disaster, it’s not about us telling them what they need to do; it’s about the community telling us what they need from us in terms of resources.”
In the case of Kansas West, the UMCOR grant will allow the conference to support 100 families by providing them with disaster case management and will help rebuild 65 homes in three towns that were impacted by torrential rain and flooding.
More than 500 families were affected by the storms and flooding last summer. Most did not have flood insurance, as it was the first time in memory that their communities had suffered such an event.
“We had a lot of flash flooding this past summer,” said Forrester. “The flooding in Colorado made national news due to the extensive damage it caused. But in Kansas, the same thing happened. They had five to ten inches of rain in a very short time. It washed through small communities and caused pockets of damage.”
The same thing happened, too, in Tennessee, where separate events in April and August affected a total of 280 homes. At the time, the Tennessee Annual Conference was still dealing with recovery following a series of tornadoes that had lumbered across four counties on January 30, leaving 100 families in need.
With support from UMCOR, the Central Texas Conference will continue its recovery from two events that occurred within a month of each other this year: a massive explosion on April 17 at the West Fertilizer Company—which impacted more than a third of West residents—and an EF 4 tornado, which struck the towns of Granbury, Cresson, and Cleburne on May 15.
UMCOR directors also extended support to the New York Annual Conference and the Susquehanna Conference, which are still rebuilding following damages caused, respectively, by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee back in 2011.
“It often happens in disaster recovery that conferences wind up finding more people to serve than they originally thought. So, additional funding by UMCOR may be needed to continue a response long after an event,” said Forrester.
There are many reasons for this, Forrester explained. Families may have to wait up to a year to learn how their insurance company will respond to their disaster; or whether they might qualify for state funds; or for a response to an appeal for FEMA funds, to cite a few examples.
Sometimes families wait to see whether there will be a buy-out of homes in a disaster area, whether they will qualify for the buy-out, and under what terms. Local governments may not rush to make such an offer because it is irreversible. Once bought-out homes are demolished (at the owners’ expense), the land must remain “forever wild,” implying a subsequent loss of tax base.
“So, it takes time,” Forrester said. But no matter how much time it may take for a community to find its “new normal,” he added, UMCOR is committed to recovery for the long term.
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, allows UMCOR to be there, however long recovery from a natural or human-caused disaster may take.
*Linda Unger is the senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.