Personnel from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance were setting up offices in Franklin, Tenn., Monday, beginning a long process of assessment in order to implement disaster recovery efforts.
Rob Moreland, Dale Martin and Kelly Buell, all members of PDA's national response team, were busy discussing how to tackle this disaster as news came in that 43 counties in Tennessee are now officially disaster areas. They spoke of how to assess needs in the Presbytery of the Mid-South, as well as the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee and of how to connect with relief efforts in the community in order to find those in need.
The numbers, at this point, are a bit staggering. Possibly 20,000 or more homes were damaged or destroyed and estimates predict more than $1.5 billion worth of damage. These numbers are still being tallied, though, and are expected to increase.
As information unfolds, PDA will know better how to respond. These team members expect to see a PDA presence in Tennessee for years.
"We are here to supplement the long-term recovery plan of the local communities," Moreland said.
He continued by emphasizing the ties to the presbyteries.
"We are here to help the presbytery, to aid in assessment and work only with the input of the presbytery," he said.
PDA now has information on its website on how to help. And it's beginning to organize a hosting site at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville. This congregation’s session voted unanimously on May 8 to host volunteer work teams coming to the stricken area.
Terry Rappuhn, Claire Harris and Fran Linley are coordinating Westminster's response.
"We're still in the crisis phase here," Rappuhn said. "The community has not had time to organize for the long-term efforts yet so we are not receiving work orders. We started helping church members and have just fanned out into the neighborhoods from there. We have been sending out groups every day."
Work teams from outside Tennessee can make plans to help by contacting PDA.
Needs in flooded neighborhoods are everywhere and easy to find. At this point most efforts are grassroots, with many churches organizing groups for local work. Most often someone sends an e-mail to members telling them to meet in the parking lot of the church in the morning and sending whoever shows up to work in affected neighborhoods.
Bellevue Presbyterian Church has organized groups daily from its parking lot, using social media like Facebook to spread information to volunteers. Many congregations have worked with Bellevue, coming to the parking lot each morning ready to work. These included Presbyterians from Murfreesboro, Smyrna and Franklin.
"We had so many people show up to clean up the church that we sent a group over to the nearby Wildwood neighborhood," said pastor the Rev. David Jones.
And the church has been sending out groups to help its neighbors since, even while its own clean-up efforts continue.
Jones, in preparation for his Sunday sermon, reflected on the nature of blessing in light of the flood.
"We don't really know what 'good' or 'bad' is, only God knows that. The water coming in, while painful to see, has been a blessing because it has brought us together, made us compassionate for others who are flooded and helped us have perspective on just what our building is and isn't," he said.
For survivors of the storms and flooding, it is very important that they register with FEMA. They may do so by calling (800) 621-FEMA or going online to FEMA's website.
For those who want to help, there are several options:
- send donations to the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee with "flood relief" in the memo line:
318 Seaboard Lane, Ste 205
Franklin, TN 37067
- send donations to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with DR000015 in the memo line:
100 Witherspoon St.
Louisville, KY 40202
- give directly through the PDA webpage about tornadoes and floods
Janet Tuck is communications director for the Synod of Living Waters and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.