MDS volunteers working in communities damaged by tornadoes


Volunteers already in Joplin, Mo., area, teams continue working in Alabama

by Barb E. Weaver, MDS news service

Looking for a way to respond to the deadly tornadoes that continue to devastate communities across the United States? Consider donating your time or financial resources to Mennonite Disaster Service. The inter-Mennonite disaster relief organization is involved in clean up following last weekend's tornado in Joplin, Mo., and April's storms in the South where over 27 tornado paths were traced through Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee alone. An EF5 tornado went through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Ala. More than 500 people have died in tornadoes this spring.

"The Missouri tornado kicked the Alabama tornado off the front page," says a MDS press release, "but the needs will go on and on in both locations. MDS plans to be there to help people return home." 

While the tornado takes only minutes to destroy, the clean up and rebuilding will take months or years. MDS volunteers are not paid, but MDS does provide food, lodging, tools and support for them. Donations can be made at the website or by sending a check to MDS. Label the check "2011 Spring Storms." Mail to MDS, 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA or in Canada, MDS, 6A-1325 Markham Rd., Winnipeg, MB, R3T 4J6 CANADA


Joplin clean-up begins

The storms hit Joplin, MO, Sunday afternoon; on Monday groups of local MDS volunteers were there helping chicken and turkey farmers by clearing access roads to damaged barns and moving live birds to other locations.

MDS Disaster Response Coordinator, Jerry Klassen, arrived in Joplin on Monday, amid another storm pounding the already damaged area. He joined the MDS Missouri Unit leaders as they investigated how MDS may respond to the devastation. 

The Missouri Unit has several trained Early Response Teams (ERT) that will arrive today (May 24) and begin tree removal, clean up and roof repairs in an area at the perimeter of the damage.

A group of volunteers from the Oklahoma MDS Unit will arrive on Friday to assist in the clean up. Joplin is not far from the Oklahoma border. 

The MDS Arkansas Unit trained Search and Rescue Team (SART) was invited to the Joplin area to assist in search and rescue efforts there. Klassen says, “Some of the flattened area has been searched, you can tell by the markings. But some areas have not had Search and Rescue teams yet.” The SART will be given an area to search when they arrive.

Klassen notes that as they investigate and talk to survivors, “there is a huge amount of shock and disbelief. We talked to one man who was distraught. His wife passed in December, he is disabled and now his house lies in shambles.”

The tornado did not hit only one area, “It hit the downtown area, industrial areas, businesses, big and small, and in rural, farming areas. And it hit a huge, huge amount of homes,” says Klassen.


Alabama clean-up continues

The Missouri tornado follows a month of deadly tornados all over the US. MDS volunteers have been in Alabama since the April 27 tornados. Currently MDS has two separate project locations in Alabama. MDS Storm Aid is staffing a project in Phil Campbell, AL. The work there is clean up and they may begin the rebuilding phase soon.

The MDS project in Birmingham is running at full capacity with 40 volunteers every week. Clean up of trees and debris will be the major focus for some weeks, then repair and rebuilding. The project is expected to be open all summer and into the fall.

"Despite the summer months when there are many family commitments of weddings, graduations, and vacations I am heartened by the overwhelming response of our volunteers," says MDS executive director Kevin King. "All of this in conjunction with our ongoing recovery projects in New Orleans, Gulfport and other project sites."

The Missouri tornado kicked the Alabama tornado off the front page, but the needs will go on and on in both locations. MDS plans to be there to help people return home.


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