Even as rain continues to fall in the U.S. southern plains, disaster responders have one eye on relief and one on long-term recovery
By Linda Unger*
May 29, 2015—As the rain continues to fall over the U.S. southern plains—swelling rivers and lakes and provoking widespread destruction—United Methodist disaster response coordinators are keeping one eye on immediate relief efforts and the other on meeting the challenges of long-term recovery. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is supporting their efforts.
In the Rio Texas Annual (regional) Conference, “hundreds of homes have just been totally destroyed or had their contents destroyed,” said Eugene Hileman, the conference disaster response coordinator. “These folks will be spending the next months—or years—trying to recover.”
The storms’ impact is spread out over a wide range of geographic locations, Hileman added, as one bulging and overflowing river poured into another, tumbling downstream. “It’s not concentrated,” he said, and that makes both the immediate and long-term response very challenging.
Hileman noted that while much of the spotlight in his region has fallen to hard-hit small towns such as Wimberly and San Marcos—which have suffered great loss, including loss of life—communities that are even smaller and located in outlying areas are also in need, but have gone largely unnoticed.
“The community where I was yesterday was downstream from San Marcos. It was on the bend of a river and, of course, when the water gets up, the river doesn’t bend; it just goes straight,” he said. “So, these homes have several feet of water in them, trash washed up in their yards. It’s very devastating.”
On Wednesday, the Rev. Laraine Waughtal, of the Central Texas Conference, reported, “We’re on standby; the water is still cresting and storms are predicted through the weekend.” By Thursday, 250 homes in the towns of Hutto and Taylor had been inundated, and a conference team was dispatched to assess damages and needs.
Disaster Response Coordinator Richard Norman, of the Oklahoma Annual Conference, told UMCOR that flooding is widespread across his state, and some 1,500 homes have been damaged or destroyed.
UMCOR aids immediate and long-term needs
Relentless rain, thunderstorms, and tornadoes have impacted a wide swath of Texas and Oklahoma since the Memorial Day weekend. At least 23 people are known to have died, and thousands of homes have been damaged, washed away, or otherwise destroyed.
A tornado that tore through Ciudad Acuña, just over the border, in northern Mexico, was part of the same weather event. At least 14 people were killed.
UMCOR has supplied five emergency grants to responding United Methodist conferences. These have gone to the Texas, Central Texas, Rio Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Indian Missionary conferences.
The Central Texas Conference used some of its UMCOR funding to send Early Response Teams (ERT) to neighboring Rio Texas to lend a hand with immediate needs there—an “innovative” use of the funds, Waughtal said, that had UMCOR’s blessing.
As conditions changed, Waughtal also dispatched ERTs to newly affected areas in the Central Texas Conference as well, and employed UMCOR emergency funds to support their work.
In Rio Texas, Hileman explained that the UMCOR funds would allow the purchase of supplies, “So our crews can do what needs to be done,” he said. But he also foresaw the long-term need for funds to help families and individuals get back into their homes.
“Even though we have financial needs now, gifts given through UMCOR to support this—to support these people—are going to help as we move through this stage into the recovery phase—and that’s where the real heavy lifting starts, because that’s a marathon not a sprint.”
Early Response Teams are being invited to serve in the responding Texas and Oklahoma conferences. Please do not self-deploy. To learn how you can assist, visit the conference web pages by following the links above.
And please give to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670 to support disaster relief and recovery.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.