By Susan J. Meister*

Tornadoes and severe storms raced across the mid-South Saturday evening, May 10, carving up towns throughout the region. Reports indicate that 27 persons died in the storms. As response begins, an area from Texas to Illinois is facing forecasts of more severe weather.

In an unusually active tornado and spring storm season, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is actively working with affected United Methodist annual (regional) conferences as they establish their recovery ministries.

Missouri United Methodists in Forefront of Response

Karen Benson, Missouri Conference Disaster Response Team, echoes the feelings of many in her state. “We’ve had one after another down here!” she said. At the current time, Benson noted that eight separate recoveries are underway — two ice storms, three flood events, and three tornado events. The latest storms affected three counties— Jasper, Berry and Newton — in the southwest part of the state.

UMCOR has been assisting the conference with the past disasters and is issuing an emergency grant to help with the current needs. Additionally, UMCOR consultant Mary Gaudreau will soon arrive to assist with long-term recovery plans.

“We are part of the state-wide larger response,” explained Benson, who serves as co-chair of the Government, Faith-based and Community Partnership. “We are also active with state VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and MIDRO (Missouri Interfaith Disaster Response Organization). Of course, United Methodists will be training long-term response organization case managers.”

Benson also noted that several out-of-state teams are ready to assist with debris removal.

Assessments to Begin in Oklahoma

Damage in Oklahoma was in the northeast part of the state, in the area near the town of Picher.

UMCOR is in close communication with the Oklahoma Conference, and is issuing an emergency grant to help them get started with recovery. Gaudreau will meet with Karen Distefano, Bartlesville District Disaster Coordinator, on May 13 to see the affected areas and begin assessments.

“We are really in an emergency stage at this time,” explained Richard Norman, disaster response coordinator for Oklahoma Domestic Missions. Disaster assessments and response will need to take into account the fact that Picher is a Superfund site, the location of former lead and zinc mines.

May 10 Tornadoes, Just the Latest Severe Weather

Brad Brady, Macon District Superintendent, South Georgia Conference, reports that damage in his area is widespread over many communities. “We’re assessing the damage at this point,” he said. “We know that there are lots of trees down on houses and roads, and business areas are destroyed. Wheels will start turning today.”

The May 10 and 11 tornadoes are just the latest in an unusually active tornado season.

Deadly storms damaged or destroyed homes and knocked out electrical power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia May 1 and 2. In these storms, an estimated 200 people were injured in Virginia and seven were killed in Arkansas.

How You Can Help

UMCOR is working with all affected annual conferences to assess damage, help with the long-term recovery plans, and provide assistance to meet emergency needs.

Help support all these annual conferences affected by these violent storms with your gifts to Domestic Disaster Response.  Please continue to pray for all survivors in the US and around the world who are dealing with violent weather.