Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Brethren in Northern Plains District respond to Iowa tornado.

Brethren in Northern Plains District have been responding to needs of those who lost homes in the tornado that hit Parkersburg and other areas of northeastern Iowa on May 25. One Church of the Brethren family who are members at Ivester Church of the Brethren in Grundy Center, lost their home in Parkersburg and most of their household belongings.

The tornado was of the strongest type, an F5, with a path that stretched for 43 miles, according to Des Moines’ KCCI Channel 8. Seven people were killed and 60 or more were injured, 288 homes were destroyed, and a couple hundred were damaged. The tornado completely decimated one-third of the small town of Parkersburg, which has a population of 1,900.

District disaster coordinator Gary Gahm has been monitoring the situation in the aftermath of the tornado and subsequent flooding. Children's Disaster Services was on alert for a possible response in Parkersburg, but the need for child care did not materialize, reported Jane Yount of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Gahm will participate in a conference call of recovery organizations later today, during which more will be learned about plans for immediate debris cleanup and longterm recovery. He said the conference call also will address the tornados that hit Iowa again last night, and he added that the weather forecast anticipates more tornados tonight.

"Right now there’s not a lot I can do, just sit back and keep track of it," he commented, saying that it will take three or four weeks before a volunteer response can begin in Parkersburg and other areas of Iowa affected by the storms. Northern Plains District volunteers will take part in the clean up, he said, depending on the timing. "We’re a farming district," Gahm said, noting that many farmers need to work in the fields right now.

Gahm’s immediate emphasis for the district’s disaster response is the Brethren Disaster Ministries site in Rushford, Minn., where volunteers have begun complete rebuilds of homes destroyed by flooding. A team of seven volunteers from Hammond Avenue Brethren Church in Waterloo--one of the closer Brethren churches to Parkersburg, just about 20 miles away--are actually working in Rushford. Gahm said they decided to go ahead and travel to the Minnesota site because it is too soon for Iowa volunteers to work on the situations in their own state.

Gahm also expressed concern for those affected by another Memorial Day Weekend tornado that hit the town of Hugo, Minn.--which coincidentally is the hometown of David Engel, a previous project director for the Brethren Disaster Ministries site in Rushford. A two-year-old boy was killed in Hugo, 27 houses were destroyed, and 500 more suffered some kind of damage, according to the "Star Tribune" of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In other efforts by churches in Northern Plains District, the Ivester congregation has held a "Blessing of the Plastics" on June 1, for the members who lost their home, and plans another blessing this coming Sunday. Church members were asked to purchase gift cards from stores such as Casey’s, K-Mart, and Target, and bring them to church. A special prayer of blessing was said as the cards were placed in the offering. The offering of gift cards is designed to allow the family to purchase what they need, when they need it.

The church also has been donating needed toiletry items for the wider community affected by the tornado, such as toothbrushes, shampoo, wash cloths, and towels. Operation Threshold will distribute the donations. Ivester member Chris Tobias serves as director of Operation Threshold, an Iowa community action agency providing services to meet basic human needs.

"What you have is just this outpouring of support among everybody," said Tim Button-Harrison, executive minister for Northern Plains District.

Source: 6/5/2008 Newsline Extra

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