From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Tornadoes wreak havoc in Arkansas and Mississippi

Date 28 Feb 2001 18:45:29

Feb. 28, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

By Jane Dennis*

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS) - At least two United Methodist churches were
damaged by tornadoes that skipped across Arkansas Feb. 24, the third
disaster to hit the state since December. 

The twisters came as residents of Little Rock were still cleaning up from
dual ice storms that struck around Christmas.

The tornadoes also were the second bout with nature for residents in
portions of Mississippi, where hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.
The twisters killed five and devastated the town of Pontotoc, hitting hard
the town of Baldwyn and damaging areas of Greenwood. A week earlier, severe
storms struck eastern and central Mississippi. 

The Rev. Ken Corley, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pontotoc, is
chairman of the area's ministerial association, which is attempting to
organize a community-based disaster response organization to handle
long-term recovery needs. Representatives from the United Methodist
Committee on Relief and other faith-based organizations are assessing damage
and will assist in the response and recovery efforts.  

First United Methodist Church in Baldwyn lost part of its steeple and
shingles, and was the only United Methodist property known to have been
affected by the tornado, according to Woody Woodrick, the communications
director for the Mississippi Annual Conference.

Primrose United Methodist Church in south Little Rock was the most severely
damaged. The church's Family Life Center sustained extensive roof damage and
some structural and water damage. The roof of the main sanctuary building
also was damaged. Rainstorms after the tornado resulted in additional
interior water damage.

The kitchen, used to prepare meals for 72 children in the church day-care
and preschool program, was put out of commission. Windows were knocked out,
five air-conditioning units were damaged, and headstones in the nearby
church cemetery were separated from their bases. The parsonage had minor
window damage.

"Our biggest need is to get the kitchen cleaned up and in working order so
the children can be served hot meals," said the Rev. Nancy Rainwater, pastor
of the 280-member congregation.

All toys, play equipment and fencing at the church playground will have to
be replaced. "The playground is a total loss," Rainwater said. "All the
fencing and equipment was either blown away or bent. We had some little
plastic toy boats the children played in. They are way out in a field behind
the church, floating in water for the first time now." 

Primrose is no stranger to the wrath of tornadoes. The church was in the
path of one of several deadly twisters that touched down March 1, 1997,
killing 25 and injuring 400 across the state.

"It's a mess," Rainwater said, while surveying damage from the most recent
storm. "Trees are down everywhere. But we went ahead and had worship on
Sunday. The children had Sunday school, while the adults mostly walked
around and cried."

Old Austin United Methodist Church in rural Lonoke County suffered severe
roof damage and will have to be re-roofed. Members of the local fire
department pitched in and covered the gaping hole with plastic to keep the
church interior dry. 

"We were awfully close to the center of the storm," said the Rev. Richard
Hughes, pastor of the 77-member church. "But we're lucky. We've got
insurance and people willing to help us."

As many as a dozen tornadoes touched down, with Pulaski, Lonoke and White
counties the hardest hit. State emergency officials said one child was
killed, 18 people were hurt and 34 houses destroyed. 

Coming on the heels of December's ice storms, the tornadoes have had a major
impact on churches and agencies that help victims of the storms. 

"The ice storms in December depleted our shelves," said Laura Rhea,
president of the Arkansas Rice Depot, which provides food and emergency
supplies to more than 250 church and community food pantries, many of them
located at United Methodist churches. The recent tornadoes added to the
already high demand for food and supplies.

"The situation with the ice storms was that some families were out of work
for two or three weeks. They had damage to their homes, the pipes froze and
there were plumbing repairs," Rhea said. "All this came right around
Christmas, a time of year when they have the least money. It wiped out many
of our low-income families. So instead of coming to the food pantry once a
month, they were coming by two or three times a week."

As a result, the Rice Depot is low on canned goods and other food items, and
it has largely depleted its supply of disaster kits, which contain cleaning
supplies and other items needed by storm victims. 

"I think this storm was a wake-up call, reminding us to be prepared," Rhea
said. "If this had been as big a disaster as we had in 1997, I don't know
that we would have been ready. And in times of disaster you don't want
someone to wait. You want to be there for them right then, to be able to
say, 'I know things are difficult right now, but God loves you, and here's a
little bit of something to help.' "
# # #
*Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper. Disaster News
Network contributed to this article.

United Methodist News Service
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