USA (MNN) — At least 11 people were killed Monday after a storm system hopscotched across the U.S., spawning tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, bringing the overall death toll from two days of severe weather to at least 30.
Emergencies were declared in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and in advance of the storms’ 2nd and 3rd rounds, President Obama promised federal support.
Reach Global Crisis Response director Mark Lewis is currently assessing the situation in conjunction with regional partners. “The storm has had a really dramatic effect…. So many millions of people have been put under incredible stress.”
That’s on top of the emotional trauma of an anniversary, he adds. “It’s almost three years ago that many of these same areas were impacted by tornadoes as well, so just the emotional stress, reliving memories” has been hard. For some, it went beyond nightmarish. “Our partner church in Madison, Alabama: some families there were affected again. They were affected three years ago, then two years ago with the subsequent tornadoes.”
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service says Wednesday, the last day in the severe weather outbreak, is the most uncertain and could possibly affect the most people.
The unstable weather pattern could create tornadoes from the Carolinas and eastern Virginia, up to around the Washington, D.C. area. In the mid-Atlantic region (Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City), there is more risk of flooding from unusually heavy rains than there is of tornado activity.
Although Reach Global does have early response teams in place, the local church is taking the lead, which has led to Gospel opportunities. Lewis says, “The beauty is really when the body of Christ rises up, and neighbors start helping neighbors. It’s the most effective response in any circumstance.” In fact, in one of the hardest-hit areas in Arkansas, believers were right behind the first responders. “They have mobilized 200 people from their church and were helping those that had tree damage and house damage in the area north of Little Rock.”
One pastor described the scene north of Little Rock as “Devastating.” Evangelical Free Church Pastor Quentin said there were trees down, cars strewn about, and heaps of debris. He met families who were trying to understand why they were spared, those dazed trying to figure out where to begin to clean up or repair, and even one family that lost two boys.
“I met one family today who scrambled for safety inside a closet to their home. At the last minute, they decided to make a run to the safe room at a local school. There they safely rode out the storm. When they came back to their house, little of it was left. They surely would have been seriously injured or even killed had they stayed.
They had just completed the home last week, after it was heavily damaged by a tornado that hit this same area three years ago.”
In Madison County, Alabama, one homeowner, met through Reach Global Crisis Response’s long-term recovery efforts following the 2011 tornadoes, sent this text message, “Twister tearing us apart.” There were two deaths in that area in the storm’s wake.
Lewis says even as they’re on the ground in the early stages, “We’re starting to think about ‘what does the longer-term look like,’ in terms of weeks to months or even years, and if there’s even going to be some of those opportunities.” The attention right now to the areas means manpower, support, finances…but all too soon, that fades. Volunteers go home, back to their lives, while survivors continue to pull theirs back together. The reality is that food, water, and shelter needs extend far beyond the news cycle.
Even once the cleanup reaches a nearly-finished point, there is still rebuilding going on, often for years. ReachGlobal teams are still working in Hurricane Katrina areas, as well as Hurricane Sandy areas. “The financial needs that homeowners are going to need for their recovery is not going to be realized for weeks or months down the road–even years maybe, until people can get the recovery underway.”
Pray for peace amid the ongoing storms, and for peace amid the aftermath. The response effort will include donations for rebuilding and ongoing relational ministry.