May 13, 2008
Help arrives for tornado survivors: Deadly storm system spawns tornadoes, flooding --hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Initial reports from disaster response coordinators and conference offices for the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma and Missouri Mid-South Conferences indicate no damages to UCC families' homes or to UCC churches. As clean up begins, it is anticipated that numbers of people will need assistance with repairing their homes in Missouri. Additionally, the UCC has worked for the last several years with the Tar Creek community in Oklahoma which includes the towns of Picher and Quapaw. The mining of lead and zinc has left toxic materials in the community which have severely impacted their lives prior to the tornado. At the 2007 General Synod in Hartford a resolution was passed regarding this ongoing disaster, see: http://www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/tar-creek-superfund-final.pdf. For more information about technology-caused disaster, see web site: http://techdis.ucc.org/ .
The United Church of Christ will be part of the ecumenical efforts that will restore lives by assisting people back into homes. $5,000 has been sent for emergency relief needs to an organization assisting the community, Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.) in Picher, Oklahoma. The United Church of Christ, National Disaster Ministries is seeking $50,000 for the long term recovery efforts. Following is current information as of this date.
Disaster response volunteers began helping survivors of a deadly tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and Missouri early Sunday even as severe storms and heavy rain raced to the east causing yet more destruction.
"There is not a house that is not damaged," said Ted Hostetler of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) looking out over Newtonia, Mo. MDS volunteers were in Neosho and Newtonia, MO early Sunday to help survivors.
More than 20 people were killed Saturday evening as a strong line of severe storms and tornadoes rushed across the mid-South, destroying and damaging hundreds homes and leaving a wide path of destruction in its wake.
Some of the worst damage. and most of the deaths, were reported in northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri. It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Oklahoma since May 3, 1999 when 44 people were killed in that state.
In Picher, a tornado that was a half-mile wide in some places, ripped through a 20 square block of the town, killing at least seven residents. According to Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency public information officer Michelann Ooten, about 150 people were injured by flying debris, including cars and roofs that had been sent hurtling into the sky before crashing earthward again.
"It's surreal," Ooten said. "Mismatched things all thrown together are everywhere."
Picher was once a thriving mine town, but it is now a rural city of about 1,600 residents at the edge of a 40 square mile Superfund site, where acid, a by-product of the lead and zinc once mined there, have turned the Tar Creek red. Considered one of the most toxic regions of the country, much of the town has been proposed for a government buyout.
The small town of Quapaw, OK, also close to the Superfund area, was also badly damaged by the storms.
Ooten said she didn't know what impact the tornadoes would have to the Superfund site.
The National Guard was been called out in Oklahoma to secure the perimeters of the damage areas and the Superfund area to keep injuries from occurring with unauthorized people entering the region.
The National Weather Service reported that an upper low and a subtropical jet turned spawned strong storms across the lower Plains states and into the South.
According to Bill Davis with the National Weather Service in Springfield, MO, the apparent tornado that struck Newton County was on the ground for a number of miles, beginning in Kansas, crossing into Missouri, leaving a "wide path with a lot of houses destroyed or damaged."
Newton County Sheriff, Ken Copeland, said the tornadoes "absolutely leveled many homes."
Not far away near Seneca MO, 14 more fatalities were reported by noon on Sunday, but rescuers were continuing their search. Several people in Seneca and the surrounding rural areas were reported still missing. About 90 people were treated for injuries related to the storms. According to Lt. John Hotz, public information officer with the Missouri Highway Patrol, the path of destruction through Newton County, Jasper County and Barry County, is nearly a mile wide in some places and 25 miles long. "It's a mostly rural area so there are not any big communities in the path, but there (was) lots of damage to houses and businesses in the area," he said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
1. Pray for people who live in communities affected by tornadoes.
2. To help those affected by disasters you may, send gifts payable to your congregation marked for "Emergency USA" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.
3. Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "Emergency USA" to the Office for Global Sharing of Resources; Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.
4. Make a secure on-line donation: Donate Now