By Susan Kim, Contributor to www.umcor.org
After a February tornado followed by a deluge of rain, Mississippi residents are just beginning their long-term recovery. In Hattiesburg, Petal, and other communities, blue tarps drape over rooftops and piles of debris are finally diminishing on the roadsides.
More than 800 homes were damaged in the southern part of the state, and state officials estimate that the storm caused tens of millions of dollars in damages to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
UMCOR issued a $10,000 emergency grant to the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church to help support relief efforts.
UMCOR is also part of a long-term recovery committee called “Recover, Rebuild, Restore Southeast Mississippi,” which will coordinate the efforts of faith-based and voluntary agencies. The group was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Local volunteers as well as trained Early Response Teams (ERTs) were a tremendous help to storm survivors during the relief phase, said the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries for the Mississippi Conference.
“When you drive through and see the volunteer response, it just makes you realize how good people really are,” he said. Local United Methodist churches have been reaching out to their neighbors from the minute the storm struck.
“We had teams from our church on the ground for 13 days doing debris removal. Really the priority has been getting tarps on houses and trying to salvage what was left inside of the homes,” said Kristin Pratt, a resident of Petal and the church secretary for Asbury UMC. “It’s clear there is going to be a long recovery process.”
At some point, out-of-town teams will be needed, agreed Casteel and Pratt, but not until storm survivors are able to assess their damages and work with their insurance companies and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As the community continues to meet the challenge, they are drawing closer together, added Pratt. “We have lots of people out just trying to do the right thing."
UMCOR will continue to support storm survivors in Mississippi. Please help. Give to U.S. Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670 at www.umcor.org.