May 1, 2014—After four straight days of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and damaging floods across the South and Midwest United States, Early Response Teams trained by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) are assessing relief needs in their United Methodist annual (regional) conferences.
“The local church is UMCOR,” said Greg Forrester, UMCOR assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response. “They are on the ground immediately following a disaster in their conferences and have the capacity and training to assess relief needs and discern a way forward.”
He said that reports he has received from conferences impacted by the storms indicate that there is no need at this time for additional volunteers from outside the conferences, and he urged well-meaning people from beyond the affected areas to not self-deploy.
Forrester has been in touch all week with the bishops and disaster response coordinators in the affected annual conferences, and Cathy Earl, who works with Forrester, is in North Carolina today, accompanying Bishop Hope Morgan Ward on a visit to tornado- and flood-hit communities.
The storm system that spawned devastating tornadoes earlier in the week brought torrential rain to some of the same areas—notably Alabama, which received more than 20 inches yesterday—before moving up the East Coast. The Florida Panhandle also received two feet of rainwater.
A total of 17 states have been impacted by the storm, which interrupted an otherwise quiet start to 2014. Powerful EF-4 tornadoes, the second highest rating, decimated towns in Arkansas and Mississippi and caused numerous deaths and injuries.
Hundreds of homes and businesses across the affected states have been damaged or completely destroyed, roads have been washed out, sinkholes have opened, and tens of thousands of people spent prolonged periods without electricity.
Forrester thanked all who have supplied contents for relief kits, especially health kits, school kits and layette kits, which are being relayed to conferences as they request them. “The kits are making a difference,” he said.
And he added, “Because the annual conferences and their ERTs are so well trained and prepared to respond to disasters, UMCOR executives can focus at this time on coordinating supplies and information.”
Kathy Kraiza, who heads UMCOR’s relief supplies ministry, said that hundreds of relief kits, tarps and blankets were sent yesterday by truck to Baxter Springs, Kansas, which was hit by a tornado on Sunday. She said she expects to send at least a thousand cleaning buckets to flood-ridden Pensacola, Florida, later today.
Forrester urged all who wish to help survivors of this devastating event to do so by assembling and shipping relief-supply kits to any of the depots in the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network and to give to U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, to support relief and long-term recovery across all the affected areas.
He reiterated that if you want to volunteer in response to these storms, please do not self-deploy. Connect with the disaster response coordinator or United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator in your conference to ascertain need, process and timing.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.