Tornadoes bring out best in disaster relief volunteers
By Brian Koonce
March 21, 2006
ST. MARY – Battle-worn and weary from the six-month response to Hurricane Katrina, the disaster relief units of Missouri Baptists were called into action again after tornadoes crisscrossed the state March 12.
“The extent of the damage was much greater than we first thought,” said Danny Decker, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) men’s missions and ministry specialist who also serves as state leader for disaster relief.
Nearly 100 tornadoes wreaked havoc across the state that night, killing at least nine and injuring 96. More than 350 homes were destroyed and at least 375 more were damaged. Forty-five of Missouri’s 114 counties suffered some damage, either from the winds gusting to more than 200 miles per hour or hail as large softballs, prompting Gov. Matt Blunt to declare the state a disaster area. President George W. Bush declared the counties of Christian, Hickory, Johnson, Monroe, Perry, Pettis, Randolph, Ste. Genevieve and Saline federal disaster areas, paving the way for federal funding and other recovery programs.
At the request of the Red Cross and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), seven disaster relief teams have been activated. However, because of the protracted response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi, disaster relief units have barely had time to catch their breath.
“We are definitely stretched,” Decker said. “Most of our volunteers used up their vacation time with Katrina and it’s hard for them to get loose again. It’s six months later, and we still have teams planning to go down there.”
Still, the activated units across Missouri are finding ways to help.
The chainsaw unit from Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau cleared debris caused by the storm that killed two and injured at least 10 in St. Mary, a community of about 460 located along Interstate 55 between Ste. Genevieve and Perryville.
“St. Mary looks a lot like sections of New Orleans did,” Decker said. “There will be just a foundation and then a pile of debris. Instead of being caused by a wall of water, it was a wall of wind.”
The southeast feeding unit set up shop at Trinity Baptist Church and served 261 meals the day after – a far cry from the thousands a day when it was in New Orleans, but no less important to those in need. Both Trinity and Saline Baptist Church stepped up and were feeding victims and workers before the disaster relief unit even arrived.
Chainsaw teams from St. Joseph and Pleasant Valley were assigned to the Moberly and Monroe City areas, which were hit hard, while the chainsaw crew based in Springfield began clearing downed trees in their own city. The Spring River chainsaw unit was serving in Cedar County while Poplar Bluff and Crane Creek Stoddard’s team was assigned to New Madrid. Churches in the affected areas, such as The Bridge in Nixa, are opening their doors to families in need.
Although the aftermath of the tornadoes did not leave the large-scale devastation and long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina, Decker said this was not simply a weekend clean-up job.
“It will take us weeks to clean up everything,” he said.