United Methodists help in Arkansas tornado relief
Feb. 28, 2007
A UMNS Report By Jane Dennis*
DUMAS, Ark. (UMNS)-Residents in the rural Arkansas Delta community flattened by a powerful Feb. 24 tornado are sifting through what's left of homes and businesses as The United Methodist Church assists in relief efforts at the local, conference and denominational levels.
With winds topping 200 miles per hour, damage was reported along a five-mile stretch of Dumas, which is about 90 miles southeast of Little Rock. At least 43 houses and 50 mobile homes were destroyed or damaged while 25 businesses were leveled and nine had major damage, according to the state Department of Emergency Management. The storm destroyed a third of the town's business district and left an estimated 800 jobless in the town of 5,300 people.
While Dumas First United Methodist Church and its parsonage were not damaged, "the devastation is unbelievable" for parts of town that were in the direct path of the tornado, according to the Rev. Glenn Pettus, pastor of the Dumas church.
No fatalities were reported, although several people, including two children ages 5 and 7, are hospitalized in critical condition.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is providing a $10,000 assistance grant to aid in the relief effort, said Martha Taylor, director of communications for the Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference. The conference is seeking donations of nonperishable food and bottled water. Mission teams and other volunteers are asked to contact Don Weeks, the conference Volunteers in Mission coordinator, at email@example.com or (501) 681-2909.
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, visiting Dumas on Feb. 25, said the landscape looked as though "high explosives" had been set off in some homes. Gov. Mike Beebe, who was out of town when the tornado hit, cut short his trip to the National Governors Association meeting in Washington to tour Dumas on Feb. 26.
Many of the 430 members of First United Methodist Church felt the impact of the weekend tornado, as about 2,300 residents were still without power on Feb. 26. The storm also polluted the town's drinking water and residents were told to boil water before using it.
Almost immediately, members of the congregation gathered at the church and began preparing food for displaced residents, most of whom are being housed at the local Baptist church, and emergency personnel. "They were doing this without lights. I just can't say enough about the people in this church," Pettus said, his voice cracking with emotion. "It has been an awesome thing to witness the outpouring of love and caring."
Arkansas Area Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield was among the first to contact Pettus. "The bishop called immediately, and it was an awesome thing for our congregation to know that our bishop was concerned," Pettus said. "He first asked about Eva (Mrs. Pettus) and me, and then his next question was, 'How are the people in the community?' Only then did he ask about the church property. That said a lot to all the people here who are hurting."
Members of the congregation are working closely with the mayor's office, the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist displaced people and others with homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.
The Rev. Dennis Spence, superintendent of the Southeast District including Dumas, visited the community Feb. 25. "You just can't believe what strong steel structures and concrete slabs can be turned into by a tornado," Spence said. "It was astounding to see. It's like the pictures show it, only worse."
A few church members gathered the Sunday after the tornado for worship services, where they shared hugs, tears and information about friends and family. The congregation praised God that no one was killed.
"What we have seen here are the mercies of God and the love of God," Pettus said. "God put his hand in all of this devastation ... and we're all just amazed at the grace that's been shown."
*Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org