Long road to recovery ahead
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Residents along the deep south and Gulf Coast have begun to dig out from the damage left behind following an outbreak of tornadoes over the weekend. From January 21 through the 23, as many as 29 tornadoes swept across six states, leaving as many as 20 people dead, hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and scattered power outages through out.
Disaster officials say as many as four people died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when the EF3 tornado, believed to be a half mile wide, carved a path for 25 minutes on the ground. An estimated 600 homes were damaged and destroyed.
”The people in this community have been through this before so the first response was ‘oh no, not again,’” said the Rev. Mike Anderson, interim pastor at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg. “The loss of life is forefront on everyone’s minds and there are still some areas without power.”
Anderson, who began his interim duties at Westminster on January 1, is working with local and state agencies along with the Presbytery of Mississippi to offer assistance where needed.
“Our congregation came out pretty good in that no one sustained major damage. There were a few members who saw some minor damage, though,” he said. “FEMA is preparing to come in to do an assessment and things are beginning to line up for volunteers to help with yard clean up and home repairs.”
The presbytery has requested a $7,500 grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
“The outbreak of tornadoes is not typical for this part of the country in January and it took everyone by surprise,” said Jim Kirk, national associate for PDA. “We will work with the presbytery, as well as other local and state organizations to help in whatever capacity we can. Our prayers go out to all of those impacted by the tornadoes.”
One of the hardest hit was William Carey University, a private Christian liberal arts college in Hattiesburg.
“The campus was devastated by the storms. Nearly every building on campus suffered damage, some of them severely, including dormitories,” said Anderson. “No lives were lost at the school but the campus is closed and many of the students have gone home while authorities try to determine how to continue the semester for the students.”
Anderson says the school is trying to offer as many online classes as possible so that students can complete the course work on time without having to continue into the summer. In some cases, he says, efforts are being made to find alternative places to conduct classes, especially for those that require lab work.
“We are offering our facilities to the school for classes and recitals,” said Anderson. “Most of what we have scheduled now are music students who need space for practice. We have it covered through February.”
Three years ago, Westminster was heavily damaged by a tornado and Anderson says William Carey moved pianos and other items to the campus and stored them until the church was restored. He says the church wanted to return the favor.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency adding that preliminary estimates put the damage at $200 million in Hattiesburg alone.
Other states impacted by the tornadoes include Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina. A PDA National Response Team has been deployed at the request of Flint River Presbytery in Georgia to assess the needs. Authorities say Albany, Georgia had significant damage and loss of life.
For those interested in contributing to relief efforts, click here and give to account DR000015.