Assessing the Damage
MARION – Southern Illinois has begun the recovery phase in the aftermath of flooding throughout the region in late April and May, disaster response officials reported in a May 16 briefing in Marion.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer spent three days in the region May 15-17, surveying the damage, offering words of comfort and support and engaging with Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials on the response.
“I believe the Apostle Paul was Wesleyan in that he writes in Ephesians, ‘we were created to do good works,’ and as United Methodists, that’s what we do,” Palmer said.
Palmer worshipped May 15 in Cairo with the Tigert UMC congregation who was returning to the church for the first time since the evacuation order was given by local officials. Palmer then took a tour of the region to be apprised of current conditions prior to the May 16 briefing.
IGRC Coordinator of Missions and Outreach Bunny Wolfe and Cache River District Disaster Response Coordinator Pete Ryan did a flyover the entire region, stretching from the Wabash River near Shawneetown, south to the Ohio River and west toward the Mississippi River. See the gallery of photos...
The church’s response
Prior to the flooding, United Methodist youth in Metropolis joined with other church’s youth to fill sandbags. The sandbagging efforts extended 10 days and involved assembling sand bags, delivery of bags, building flood walls, helping people move their belongings and working in a local clothes closet at a Red Cross Shelter.
“The unity among the believers was a God Sighting among the tragedy,” said Dena Hopkins, youth director at Metropolis First UMC. “We prayed and worked side by side with many local pastors, youth directors, and youth from every denomination in town. I hope that more than providing sandbags to homeowners, we also provided hope and faith.”
At one point, the youth were filling 1,800 sandbags an hour as they worked to near exhaustion each day. See the gallery of photos...
Now that the flood water is receding, United Methodists have already begun mobilizing to provide long-term assistance to the region.
“People are tired and a lot of folks are going to be displaced,” said Ryan, pastor of Joppa and Oak Grove UMC’s. “We are going to be at this for a long time.”
Cleanup began the week of May 16 in Olive Branch and a small team of IGRC volunteers led by Ron Monroe began work.
At the same time, more than 40 volunteers were certified in early disaster response training in two training sessions May 16-17 at Carbondale First UMC. A third training session has been scheduled for Saturday, June 11 at Mt. Vernon West Salem Trinity UMC.
Persons wishing to assemble teams, have questions or need general information need to contact IGRC Disaster Response Coordinator Ken Miner at 217-725-5870 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Teams can contact Ryan after June 6 to schedule teams at 618-771-0366 or by email at email@example.com
While not everyone is required to have UMCOR certification, every team should have those who have undergone the six-hour training. Teams should also plan for being self-sustaining and self-sufficient as housing is limited.
In his pastoral letter of May 12, Bishop Palmer outlined four ways in which persons can be involved in the flood cleanup:
- Be trained and ready to respond when the call for volunteers is made.
- Contribute cleaning bucket supplies to the Midwest Mission Distribution Center or bring them to annual conference. The MMDC will receive those items on Wednesday, June 1, from 1 to 7 p.m. and on Thursday, June 2 and Friday, June 3, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contributions can also be made for cleaning supplies through IGRC Advance #6620 – Midwest Mission Distribution Center.
- Contribute to IGRC Disaster Response Advance #6800. Funds from this Advance Special will be needed to assist in the relief and recovery phases within the flooded areas.
- Pray for those suffering loss due to flooding and for volunteers.
“We have an opportunity to represent the hands, feet and body of Christ to our own neighbors and within our own conference boundaries,” Palmer wrote. “I pray you will make a commitment to be a part of the flood clean up and recovery. Bless you as you find your place of service in response to the flooding in southern Illinois.”
The week of May 16 was spent with preliminary damage assessments by FEMA, focusing on individual assistance – homes and personal property that has been damaged by the flood. The week of May 23 will be spent meeting with local governments to gather information on flood-related expenses and issues of public assistance.
“Members of the assessment teams will not make it to every damaged property in a community,” said Seth Gardner, FEMA’s volunteer liaison. “The goal is to make it to enough properties to get an accurate picture of the total damage in the affected area.” FEMA has reported receiving more than 1,300 reports of damage in Southern Illinois.
Once this process is completed, the information will be collected and presented to President Barack Obama, who will then make the decision whether to issue a Federal disaster declaration. At that time, the federal and state emergency management teams will return for more thorough assessments.
‘Worse than 1993’
The miracle of the 2011 flood is that there are no reported deaths. Among churches in the Cache River District, Superintendent Greg Courtright said only one – Cave-in-Rock UMC – was flooded and sustained four foot of water in it. Elkville UMC also reported some water but it appears that the source was drainage backup caused by the torrential rains.
Sandra Webster, a representative for the American Red Cross in the lower 14 counties of Illinois, said that the 2011 flood was the “hardest disaster” she had encountered in 22 years of working for the Red Cross.
“The damage is so widespread and (unlike 1993), the water isn’t going down quickly,” she said. “The fact that both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers went at the same time made it impossible to begin assessing the damage until the week of May 16.”
Webster noted in some areas water is standing at a depth of better than 4 feet. “And with sustained water damage, you have mold setting in,” she added.
Red Cross opened five shelters beginning April 19 throughout the region, including a shelter at Shawnee Community College for the evacuation of Cairo.
“Many people self-evacuated to Carbondale until their money ran out,” Webster said. “Red Cross cleanup kits are out and feeding stations are in place in Olive Branch, Metropolis and Alexander County.”