By Linda Unger*
April 28, 2014
After a series of deadly tornadoes tore through seven Southern and Midwest states yesterday, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) remains in contact with affected United Methodist annual (regional) conferences to ascertain local needs and next steps.
“I’ve been in touch with conference disaster response coordinators in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana and Iowa,” reported Greg Forrester, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response. “A total of 30 tornadoes were reported across these seven states, with the most severe damage in Arkansas and Oklahoma.”
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at least 19 people died in the storms, 16 of them in Arkansas; some 53,000 people remained without electrical power; and seven shelters had been opened in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma to attend to people displaced by the tornadoes.
The hardest hit towns were Mayflower (pop.: 2,300) and Vilonia (pop.: 3,800) in Arkansas, where a total of 10 of the deaths occurred, and Quapaw (pop.: 900) in Oklahoma, where two more people died and, according to FEMA, about a dozen homes were destroyed.
Bishop Gary E. Mueller of Arkansas was meeting this morning with his conference disaster response team. He added that in addition to the loss of life and homes, the Vilonia United Methodist Church and parsonage suffered extensive damage.
Bishop Robert Hayes, Jr., of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OKIMC), expressed gratitude for prayers for all who have been affected by the storms. The Rev. David Wilson, district superintendent for the OKIMC, said that Quapaw is home to 10 Native American tribes.
How you can help
While assessments proceed, Forrester asked for continued prayers for survivors and the efforts of first-responders, as well as for the safety of all those in the path of new storms anticipated across the U.S. midsection later today. Louisiana and Tennessee are in the crosshairs of risk, he said.
“You can help UMCOR respond to this powerful event by keeping all those affected in your prayers; by giving to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response; and by working with your church community to provide UMCOR relief supplies, especially health kits,” Forrester said.
He reminded volunteers and all people of goodwill to not self-deploy to the affected areas but, rather, to remain attentive to the directions of conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) as to when conditions are stable enough and the conferences ready to receive on-the-ground assistance.
Just last week, news reports indicated that the United States was experiencing its longest period since the start of a year without a tornado fatality. But, also on Sunday, an 11-month old, was reported to have died as a result of injuries sustained during a tornado in North Carolina on Friday, April 25.
More severe weather is expected to impact the U.S. through Wednesday. Your support for U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, will help UMCOR respond to this and other devastating events.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.
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