Tornado tears through Tennessee

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance helping with long-term recovery

April 15, 2009

—Thomas Christy

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Good Friday, April 10, dawned stormy over middle Tennessee.

Those storms proved fatal as noon arrived and a category 4 tornado tore through Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Before the tornado touched down, the Rev. John Robinson of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance was on the phone with the Rev. Phil Leftwich, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. Robinson, PDA’s associate for domestic response, had been monitoring the weather and knew there was a possibility for severe storms.

“We were on the phone while the weather was happening, so response was beginning even before the actual disaster,” said Leftwich, who was monitoring the storm from the local news broadcast while speaking with Robinson.

Saturday saw a team of Presbyterians at the disaster site to evaluate the situation. Among them was Rob Moreland, a volunteer member of the PDA national response team who lives in nearby Manchester, TN. His intent was to evaluate the situation and submit a report to PDA so that the presbytery could apply for emergency funds on Monday, April 13.

Damage was extensive, with the tornado path covering 22 miles. A mother and 9-week-old baby were killed, and 48 people were treated for injuries at the Middle Tennessee Medical Center.

According to The (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal, the tornado affected 794 structures, causing about $38.4 million worth of damage. About 98 homes were destroyed, 156 had minor damage worth $5,000 or less and 227 were affected but livable.

These numbers are an early assessment. It is expected that they will increase as assessment continues.

The structure of First Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro was unharmed, but the membership was affected. Four homes of members were destroyed.

“The church has done an amazing job of coming together to care for their members,” Leftwich said.

Moreland noted the efficiency of the staff at the church, where the Rev. John Hinkle Jr. is pastor. The congregation has helped members who lost their homes salvage their possessions. Some items and personal papers are being stored at the church.

After a disaster strikes, the first priority is search and rescue. Recovery efforts then focus on salvage and clean up, which is what Murfreesboro is doing now.

Depending on the severity of the disaster, that stage can take weeks, months or years. One of PDA’s roles is to support affected communities during this extended period of recovery. PDA will be in Murfreesboro for many months to come.

“PDA is interested in the long-term recovery, planning and casework,” said Moreland. “After the debris is cleaned up, the media packs up and leaves, and people are left standing in their empty yards, looking around, wondering what to do now.”

That’s when PDA’s real work begins, he said.

PDA sent $10,000 to the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee for the tornado response from One Great Hour of Sharing funds. More assistance will be flowing to the region. To support PDA’s efforts, contribute through normal church channels, designating the gift for Account DR000015 – “U.S. Disaster Response.”

Moreland said that PDA “wants to help the people who don’t have the resources they need so that they can help themselves.”

For its part, the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee has already been very active in its response. Many churches have shown up for salvage and clean-up efforts. In addition to First Presbyterian in Murfreesboro, First Presbyterian Church in nearby Smyrna was on the scene Saturday.

Other congregations that are helping include Emmanuel, East Brentwood and First Presbyterian in Columbia.

Monetary contributions can also be made to the presbytery.

To donate, send a check made out to the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee with “Murfreesboro Tornado Relief” in the memo line. The presbytery is located at 318 Seaboard Lane, Suite 205, Franklin, TN 37067.

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