3:00 P.M. EST May 23, 2011
An emergency worker carries a girl out of Academy Sports on
the evening of May 22 following the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo.
Web-only photos courtesy of The Joplin Globe/Roger Nomer.
Several United Methodist churches in Joplin, Mo., were scrambling to provide shelter Monday morning for church members and others whose homes were damaged by a tornado the day before.
At least two churches also suffered extensive damage.
The Rev. Christopher Sloan, pastor of Christ’s Community United Methodist Church, compared viewing the aftermath to looking at a “lunar landscape.”
The devastation is so well defined, he added, that “when you get on a hill, you can see a path through the city.”
Sloan also serves as a fire department chaplain and had helped set up an emergency medical services response center after the tornado struck.
His church, which had power but no water, was open as a shelter and was receiving supplies and volunteers. A disaster-response team from the Missouri Annual (regional) Conference is expected to use the church as its headquarters for tornado response, he said.
“We’re finding out how many people in our congregations have lost their houses,” he said.
Sloan confirmed that the sanctuary of another church, St. Paul’s United Methodist, was destroyed by the tornado, although the rest of the structure remained standing. The conference also reported that St. James United Methodist Church was destroyed and the Southwest District office next to it damaged.
The Joplin Globe reported 89 deaths as a result of the tornado, which struck the city of 48,000 around 6 p.m. on May 22. A major hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, took a direct hit from the tornado and has since been vacated. Two firehouses were destroyed.
Tornado survivors walk down a road in Joplin, Mo.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase asks for prayer and
donations to help those affected by the twister.
Members of a church youth group at Byers Avenue United Methodist Church, which had minor damage, rode out the tornado in a Sunday school room. “We sang church songs, we prayed ... we tried not to get scared,” Ethan Hatfield, 16, told the Tulsa World.
At First United Methodist Church in Joplin, receptionist Sue Cowen spent Monday morning fielding calls of concern and inquiry from congregants, United Methodists from other parts of Missouri and even a few out-of-state churches.
The church — a 100-year-old stone building with a membership of 903 — was intact and open “to anyone who wants to get out of the rain,” she said. “We have many members with no home, no nothing anymore.”
Christ’s Community, which has more than 1,100 members, is a large facility with about 30 classrooms and plenty of room for those seeking shelter. “We’re just going to put people in classrooms,” Sloan said.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase invited United Methodists “to respond prayerfully, courageously and generously” to the Joplin disaster. “Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who grieve the loss of loved ones and who have suffered the destruction of homes and businesses following Sunday’s devastating tornado in Joplin,” he said in a May 23 statement.
More than Missouri
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, U.S. disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said he expected he would be traveling to Joplin for an initial damage assessment. Hazelwood was to arrive in Missouri on May 23 for a previously scheduled meeting in Kansas City.
Rescuers try to free a woman from a building in Joplin, Mo.
At least 14 of the denomination’s annual conferences have been affected by tornados or storms this spring, he noted, with the number of tornados in highly populated areas this year “more significant that we’ve had in a long time.”
United Methodists are also responding to deadly tornadoes that touched down over the weekend in Kansas and Minnesota. The twisters left at least one person dead in northern Minneapolis and killed another in Reading, a town of about 250 people in eastern Kansas.
Winds ripped off the roof of Reading United Methodist Church, and the building may be a total loss. About 20 homes in the town were destroyed.
Donations to help UMCOR respond to “Spring Storms 2011” can be made here.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.