|United Methodists respond to floods in central U.S.|
Debris crowds the sidewalk outside of a Gainesville, Texas, business following a June 18 flood in the North Texas region. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is providing emergency funding and flood buckets to areas affected by widespread flooding across the central United States. A UMNS photo by Mat Matthews.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
July 5, 2007
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood
United Methodists are responding to flooding that has plagued the rain-soaked central United States from mid-June through early July.
In Texas, where several churches have served as Red Cross shelters for storm victims, volunteers are assisting with cleanup.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has sent an emergency grant to the denomination’s North Texas Annual (regional) Conference—where Cooke and Grayson counties suffered from widespread flooding on June 18—and dispatched consultant Barbara Tripp there in early July. UMCOR emergency grants range from $5,000 to $10,000.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR’s domestic disaster coordinator, said flood buckets also have been sent. The agency is encouraging donations to its general domestic disaster response fund, UMCOR Advance No. 901670, to assist with recovery.
Hazelwood noted that donations are "desperately needed" for the domestic disaster fund, which is running low. "We’ve had a lot of these springtime storms this year, and we haven’t had a lot of income to those accounts," he said.
In Gainesville, Texas, the newly remodeled education and office building at First United Methodist Church was flooded June 18, although its 115-year-old sanctuary escaped damage. The homes of several church families also were affected by the water.
The Rev. Don Yeager, First Church pastor, said carpet had to be removed due to water and sewage backup on the first floor. Fortunately, the church has a flood insurance policy, as well as coverage through the conference.
Elsewhere in Gainesville, Whaley United Methodist Church has served as a Red Cross shelter, providing beds for storm victims and volunteer workers and sleeping as many as 200 people on a few nights. The shelter has provided 250 to 300 meals at a sitting and sent out an additional 1,000 meals at a time via Red Cross vehicles, according to the Rev. Rob Spencer, Whaley’s pastor.
The shelter was scheduled to close July 5, since most storm-impacted families have found apartments or houses to rent. A forecast for additional rain "remains our biggest concern," he told United Methodist News Service.
The Whaley congregation has three families "that have basically lost everything" and another three impacted by the flooding, Spencer said.
Church members responded in force, with more than 100 working at the shelter. That was not surprising to Spencer, given a new facility the church opened 18 months ago. "One of the reasons we built it was to be a shelter before and after a storm," he explained.
Spencer said he would like to see more local churches across the United States become involved in disaster response. "The dream that I have for The United Methodist Church is that we would really consider offering our facilities more throughout the country to be shelters," he added. "What we can do well is provide facilities and people who care."
Both Yeager and Spencer are part of the Cooke County Long-Term Recovery Committee, which includes community members and church representatives. A vacant store in an outlet mall, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency also has set up headquarters, will serve as a temporary outlet for clothing and furniture donations.
Braced for more floods
Several areas in the Central Texas Annual Conference were affected by flooding, according to Jennifer Coggins, conference director of humanitarian services. "The most extensive damage in our conference at this time is in Eastland," she said. "They had 100 to 150 homes affected."
First United Methodist Church in Eastland collected and distributed donations of items such as water and ice, including some from private companies. "Cleanup efforts have not really begun there," Coggins said.
In Granbury, 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, the First United Methodist Church provided a Red Cross shelter for five days at the end of June. "Their community is doing well right now," Coggins noted. "We think we’ll need to help with some rebuilding."
"The dream that I have for The United Methodist Church is that we would really consider offering our facilities … to be shelters. What we can do well is provide facilities and people who care."
- The Rev. Rob Spencer
First United Methodist Church in Ennis was set up as a standby shelter when the nearby Trinity River overflowed, but the shelter was not needed, she said.
The Central Texas Conference will request a $10,000 emergency grant from UMCOR to start recovery work, according to Coggins. As of early July, the weather remained a threat. "The forecast is for rain through the (July 7-8) weekend," she said. "I think all of the communities are on standby for more flooding."
Several communities in Southwest Texas, including Marble Falls and Granite Shoals, also suffered major flood damage.
Record rain in Kansas area
In southeastern Kansas, the storms have resulted in record rainfalls—up to 22 inches—and record flooding along three major rivers, prompting evacuations in towns such as Osawatomie and Independence. Problems during the shutdown of a regional oil refinery in Coffeyville spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil to the floodwaters.
Lonnie Bailey, a local church ministry consultant for the United Methodist Kansas East Annual Conference with experience in disaster response, said that although the water was beginning to recede, it was "too soon to tell how much damage we’ve really got."
Because of the broad area of storm coverage, there are some 30 towns to assess, he added, with hundreds of families affected in each location. Rural areas also were hard hit, and Bailey expects a lot of crop damage.
Donations to UMCOR Advance No. 901670, Domestic Disaster Response, can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or online at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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