$1 million grant for Alabama tornado relief

10/12/2011

The Rev. Kelly Clem (right) and Christine Kirchberg-Jones clear tornado debris in Harvest, Ala., in May 2011. A UMNS file photo by Reed Galin.The Rev. Kelly Clem (right) and Christine Kirchberg-Jones clear tornado debris in Harvest, Ala., in May 2011. A UMNS file photo by Reed Galin.

At the end of April, Alabama residents were stunned by a record 62 tornadoes that killed 250 people and left homes, businesses and municipalities in tatters.

All but two of those tornados touched down somewhere in the United Methodist North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference. This week, directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief approved a $1 million grant to that conference to assist in the state’s recovery.

The directors also approved other large grants including $1.2 million to the Asian Rural Institute, an ecumenical campus damaged by the March 11 earthquake in Japan; $463,000 to the Dakotas Annual Conference to assist those coping with spring flooding that destroyed more than 3,000 homes, and $200,000 for Project HEAL of South Florida Urban Ministries, providing services for Haitian refugees and evacuees after the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

The size of these grants is not unprecedented, said the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, UMCOR’s top executive, who noted the grants address a variety of global needs. “From Japan to Haiti to North Alabama – because of the incredible congregations across the connection — we are able to respond,” she said.

Although funds had been low earlier in the year, particularly for U.S. disasters, “we had faith that the people of The United Methodist Church would respond as they always do, and they did,” Harvey told directors during their Oct. 11 board meeting.

Rebuilding in Japan

The year’s major disasters began with Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. UMCOR has received $11.8 million for its relief and recovery assistance there.

United Methodist volunteer Tim Guth helps clean up flood damage at the home of Edward Ortiz in Minot, N.D., in August 2011. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.United Methodist volunteer Tim Guth helps clean up flood damage at the home of Edward Ortiz in Minot, N.D., in August 2011. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.

The Asian Rural Institute, which had received a $150,000 grant from UMCOR in April, is in the process of restructuring its campus. Several buildings were declared unsafe, and the location was close enough to the leaking Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to prompt concerns over radiation. The institute has made efforts to decontaminate its soil through a process called “phyto-remediation.”

Its recovery process is outlined in a $6.6 million comprehensive reconstruction plan. Other donors include Lutheran groups, the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada, American Friends of ARI, Episcopal Relief and Development, the Japanese government and the United Church of Christ in Japan.

“Priority is being given to core facilities that are most essential for carrying out our training program,” the plan stated. “The extent of the damage of the earthquake has required us essentially to restructure the entire ARI campus.”

Other new grants related to the Japan earthquake and tsunami include $300,000 for emergency assistance through Church World Service and $200,000 to support advocacy work on responsible nuclear power by the Japan Ecumenical Disaster Response Office of the National Christian Council in Japan.

Responding to spring storms

U.S. disasters took their toll in 2011. The grants for Alabama and North Dakota come from the $4.9 million raised by UMCOR for spring storms, said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who leads U.S. disaster response.

With its $1 million grant, the North Alabama Conference expects to help at least 2,000 families return home or relocate to new homes. The long-term recovery plan will help train and provide case managers, set up a structure to facilitate the repair and rebuilding of homes by volunteer teams, and establish leadership and the communications necessary to implement the plan.

The June flooding disaster in the Dakotas Conference is primarily centered on the Minot, N.D., region but also includes communities along the Missouri River in North and South Dakota as well as the Devils Lake, N.D., area.

Floodwaters, rushing in at 75 miles an hour, swamped Faith United Methodist in Minot and damaged 35 homes of its members, but the congregation was able to continue its community outreach by moving its popular food pantry to a trailer in a strip-mall parking lot.

The recovery plan of the Dakotas Conference focuses on providing better support by having an associate coordinator in the Minot area and assisting with unmet financial needs. “This funding will go to buy supplies, to help individual families and to hire someone … to manage volunteers,” Hazelwood said.

Children pump water in front of the rubble of the Mellier Methodist School near Petit-Goâve, Haiti, in November 2010. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.Children pump water in front of the rubble of the Mellier Methodist School near Petit-Goâve, Haiti, in November 2010. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.

UMCOR directors also approved a second $100,000 grant to the Tennessee Annual Conference for recovery from 2010 flooding in 29 of the state’s counties.

Continued work in Haiti

The relief agency has received $45 million for its long-term recovery plan for the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Of that amount, Crutchfield said, $26 million had been spent or committed by May this year. The remaining sum is expected to go toward projects focusing on education, livelihoods, health and shelter.

New Haiti grants approved this week included $275,000 to Haitian Artisans for Peace International to help strengthen the rural community of Mizak and the Project HEAL grant to assist Haitians in Florida.

UMCOR directors also approved distribution of the remaining $2.5 million of a three-year Haiti response plan for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, which is to be released in six-month intervals.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.