By Roger Drinnon
LCMS district and local disaster responders continue their recovery efforts on the heels of devastating weather across the nation in late December that included intense rainstorms with flooding in Illinois and Missouri as well as tornadoes in Mississippi and Texas.
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View the photo gallery of flood damage in St. Louis and other Missouri communities.
Watch the video below about the flooding with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and LCMS Disaster Response Director Rev. Ross Johnson.
While North Texas and Northern Mississippi reeled from unseasonable twisters, St. Louis and its surrounding communities endured a deluge of rainstorms that flooded residential and industrial areas, major highways and other roadways. Places farther northeast, like Watseka, Ill., also were hurt by intense storms.
As disaster responders from the affected districts and LCMS Disaster Response continue to assess the conditions in the affected regions to help where needed most, the Synod has approved disbursement of at least $56,000 in grants for immediate relief and recovery while also distributing $6,000 in $100 gift cards to congregations for basic necessities.
LCMS Disaster Response anticipates more grant requests in the weeks ahead from the hardest-suffering communities and congregations for relief and recovery efforts, like those in the LCMS Central Illinois District (CID) and the Missouri District.
About 23 counties within the CID were flooded. In Iroquois county, the Sugar Creek and Iroquois River flooded roughly 60 blocks in Watseka, Ill.
“Disaster-response coordinators were dispatched four days after the flooding occurred for relief assessments,” said Stephen Born, the CID’s district disaster-response coordinator (DDRC). “To maximize our relief efforts, we are working in collaboration with Lutheran Church Charities [LCC] and LCMS Disaster Response.”
“About 150 homes [in Watseka] were affected by the flooding, and approximately 450 people were directly affected. In town, there were approximately 10 businesses that were affected,” said the Rev. Donald G. Love, pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Watseka. “Approximately 30 people in both our congregation and preschool were affected at some level — four families were hit hard.”
LCMS Disaster Response’s Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) training and “Mercy in Action” training are available year-round to prepare and equip districts and congregations ahead of time for effective, coordinated responses to catastrophes. Born said that LCMS Disaster Response qualified him and fellow disaster-response coordinator Randy Wolf early in 2014 as LERT trainers, and they in turn trained hundreds of other responders.
“The [CID] has approximately eight LERT trainings a year. They have 400 certified team members, including over 60 certified LERT chainsaw members,” said Born. “To further assist their efforts, they have disaster-response trailers, which carry their equipment and supplies. They also have [all-terrain vehicles], which allow them to carry food and water to volunteers and families.”
He said LERT training is essential for responding safely and mercifully to sudden emergencies like the flooding in Watseka.
“LERT is extremely important in all communities, as disasters occur at any time and anywhere,” Born said. “Our volunteers are first-responders to the community, offering hope, hugs and hammers. If we have LERT-trained volunteers in the area, then we can rest assured that well-trained individuals will respond and share the mercy of Christ with others just as Christ has shown mercy to us.”
“Having the presence and help of the CID and the [Northern Illinois District (CID)] teams at Calvary has made a huge difference. It has brought hope, compassion and a reassurance that we are not alone,” said Love. “Knowing that there are other Christian brothers and sisters who are skilled and trained that are coming in to help in the congregation and representing Calvary to the community means a world of difference. It’s a boost to the ministry of Calvary within the community in giving witness that Christ, and His people at Calvary, love and care about the people of Watseka.”
Love said he also appreciates the response from LCC and the additional volunteer support coming from the NID.
“Lutheran Church Charities traveled to Watseka within days after the flooding. Our first goal was to assess the damage to homes of members of Calvary Lutheran Church and others in the community,” said Philip Bandy, LCC vice-president. “A few days later, we helped recruit volunteers and coordinated their deployment from both the NID and CID to homes ravaged by ice, water and mud. Two of the families we helped with cleanup were a couple over 90 [years old] with eight feet of water in their basement and another couple where both were recovering from health issues — the husband from a heart attack and the wife from back surgery. LCC was blessed to be able to assist those families and scores of others while sharing the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ with them.”
After-flooding from swelling waterways like the Missouri River and the Mississippi hurt communities throughout Missouri. Lake Taneycomo reportedly reached flood-level in Southwestern Missouri, flooding parts of Branson and surrounding neighborhoods. Flooding along the Meramec River impacted communities to the south and southwest of St. Louis.
“The response to the flooding will develop over the coming weeks. Lutheran Family and Children’s Services [LFCS] of Missouri is the disaster-response coordinator for the Missouri District, and we have been working closely with LFCS and the LCMS Disaster Response staff to determine particular needs,” said the Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan, Missouri District president. “It is hard to witness the effects of flooding on families and communities. However, we always stand ready to serve our neighbors in need and to speak about the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.”
“Though the rivers have crested and the flood waters have begun to recede, the work of recovery is only now beginning and will last many months, maybe years, for those families that were affected,” said John Pyron, DDRC for LFCS and the Missouri District.
A tornado that began as an EF-3 twister and strengthened to EF-4 with wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph tore through Northern Mississippi and some parts of Tennessee Dec. 23, reportedly killing nine.
“The tornado ripped through Holly Springs, home of Zion Lutheran Church, and was on the ground for a total of 150 miles, leaving death and destruction in its wake, but neither the local Lutheran church nor its members were directly affected by the storm,” said the Rev. Ed Brashier, director of Shepherd’s Heart Ministry and the Southern District’s DDRC.
Brashier said even though no LCMS people were impacted directly, Southern District President Rev. Kurtis Schultz “activated” him as the DDRC, and [disaster response] crews arrived in Holly Springs just two days after Christmas to help residents.
“After offers of assistance from LCMS Disaster Response and Lutheran Church Charities, LERT volunteers from Alabama, Illinois and Indiana rolled in with chainsaws, Bobcats and tractors to help the local community recovery from the tragedy,” said Brashier.
The 2015 holiday season also brought a cluster of fierce tornadoes to North Texas, and LCMS-trained district and local disaster responders have been vital in those recovery efforts. As many as 10 tornadoes ripped through the Dallas-Fort Worth area the day after Christmas, with at least one tornado in Garland reportedly rated as an EF-4. To read a Reporter Online story about the LCMS Texas District’s response to these storms, click here.
Teamwork, training, preparation
“Our collaborative response network is working, and these storms underscore how important it is to have trained people from the districts ready for safe and timely disaster response,” said Johnson. “LCMS districts and congregations are the leaders in responding to these crises, and LCMS Disaster Response trains and supports them while also building on the capacity of the church’s partners to respond to needs with Christian care.”
“It’s all about our own capacity to help both those outside the LCMS family who are hurting — and we do that in the clear name of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world — and helping our own LCMS people,” said Harrison. “You change their lives forever. They are so thankful — it’s amazing.”
For more information on LCMS Disaster Response, visit lcms.org/disaster.
Roger Drinnon (email@example.com) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted Jan. 8, 2015