Presbyterian Disaster Assistance assesses flood and tornado damage in the Midwest

Volunteers focus on long-term support as hurricane season begins

May 28, 2015

A couple leaves their home following flooding in Oklahoma.

A couple leaves their home following flooding in Oklahoma. —Marvin Nauman, FEMA

Louisville

The month of May has been rough for residents of Midwestern states following a series of tornadoes, severe storms and heavy flooding. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has been closely monitoring the weather across the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Parts of Illinois and Colorado have been impacted by the recent storms as well.

“When taken as a whole, the number of areas flooded, homes destroyed and damaged and the number of fatalities all add up to equal a large event,” said Rick Turner, associate for disaster response with PDA. “Texas has especially been hit hard and PDA has shifted its response from several ‘smaller’ events to one large response.”

This move, according to Turner, will help PDA better prepare for the long-term recovery efforts that will begin in the coming weeks.

Severe weather over the Memorial Day weekend left at least 17 dead and 30 missing. Numerous homes have been washed away by flood water. Texas officials warn that flooding could last for weeks in the wake of sizeable rainfall amounts. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network reports four inches of rain has fallen on at least one location in Texas, every day since May 5.

PDA has maintained contact with mid-councils that have been impacted by storms and flooding. One Great Hour of Sharing funds have been sent to Grace and New Covenant Presbyteries and additional funding requests are anticipated.

“We have learned that at least one church, St. Paul Church in Houston, has sustained flood damage,” said Turner. “Members of the National Response Team will be visiting John Knox Ranch Camp; situated near some of the most violent and severe flash flooding.”

Another concern, says Turner, is Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, across the river from Del Rio, Texas. Monday’s tornado was described by some as “the deadliest single twister North America has seen so far this year.” The United Methodist Church has asked PDA to partner with them as they respond to the needs in Mexico.

Prior to this weekend’s flooding, Turner had deployed six teams to assess damage from recent storms.

In some cases, it is the worst that survivors have ever seen. In others, it is almost business as usual because they’ve been hit so many times before,” said Turner “When a family loses a home it is a disaster. When hundreds or thousands lose their homes, it is just multiplied over and over again. Worst of all, it’s not over yet.”

Oklahoma recently reported 46 tornado sightings in one evening. PDA has been in contact with four synods and 10 presbyteries. Officials describe the damage as “normal” for this time of year.

The Van, Texas team reported twisters affected at least 220 homes, 125 suffered minor damage while 90 homes were destroyed. No Presbyterian churches were damaged but the elementary school was, forcing school officials to give students an early summer break. In addition, the city’s water treatment plant was damaged, forcing residents to boil water for use.

The Corpus Christi team was deployed to visit an area near the Texas/Mexico border called the Colonia’s.

“This area is often populated by undocumented families living huts,” said Carolyn Thalman, one of the PDA volunteers with the National Response Team. “Unfortunately, this area is in a flood plain, damaging 30 homes while a few others were destroyed.”

As part of the long-term recovery efforts, Thalman and other volunteers are working with area churches to help them prepare to assist others.

“In Illinois, PDA sent a follow-up team to lead a long-term orientation event to teach local residents, mostly Presbyterians in attendance, how long-term recovery works and how they can get involved,” said Thalman. “The PDA Call Center will be reaching out to other church leaders to see how they can help. In all affected areas, PDA will continue to provide support as needed and follow up with a Care for Caregivers retreat and compassion fatigue training if needed.”

A Henderson, Texas man, also a PDA volunteer, reported that damage was the worst he had seen in 41 years, adding that the Westminster Bible & Church of Christ suffered severe damage.

Those interested in giving to recovery efforts can designate gifts to DR000191 – U.S. Flooding. Gifts can be made online and by phoning 800-872-3283 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 pm. EDT. Checks can be mailed to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

“The concerning thing is that it’s not over,” said Turner. “We are still in the spring storm season and hurricane season is just beginning.”

  1. Why is no one connecting these extreme weather events to climate change and our complicity in it through our continued investment in the fossil fuel industry? If we are too afraid to name it we will continue to put band-aids on symptoms instead of addressing root causes.

    by Dan Terpstra

    June 4, 2015