United Methodists respond generously

By Daniel R. Gangler
Story and photos

HENRYVILLE, Ind. – Within two days of a deadly tornado storm that leveled her town March 2, the Rev. Wilma Sawyer Bone had taken charge and plunged into an uncertain future.

Bone, pastor of the 100-member Henryville United Methodist Church, welcomed Bishop Mike Coyner; the Rev. David Powell, Indiana Conference Director of Disaster Response; the Rev. LeKisha Reed, Indiana Conference Associate Director of Mission and Advocacy; the Rev. Charlie Wilfong, South District Superintendent; and the Rev. Jim Byerly, Southeast District Disaster Response Coordinator.

At a round table in the church’s office, conference leaders and Bone outlined a plan of action for the immediate time and the future ahead to take the congregation and community from relief to recovery.

The March 2 twister had destroyed numerous public buildings including the public school, destroyed more than 200 homes and severely damaged another 150 homes that need to be repaired or rebuilt.

By the time the conference team arrived the afternoon of March 5, electricity had been restored to those places standing, and the church had been given permission for a group to pitch a tent with water bottles and snack food for volunteers flocking to town. A Duracell battery trailer also was onsite and a Tide laundry trailer was due to arrive in the next couple of days. Food distribution was soon operating out of the church’s fellowship hall after minimal storm cleanup. The church received minor damages with a hole in the roof of the sanctuary. The church now takes on the role of one of many relief centers for residents.

Received offers

Bone said she had already received condolences and offers of help from West Virginia, California, Iowa, New York and Illinois within hours. “Pastors from all over the United States are calling to see how we are doing,” she said. She also received a welcomed call from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

The Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter in Henryville on the night of the storm, but no one showed up.

“Survivors are staying with relatives and friends,” she said. “Everybody has been so supportive.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had not yet declared the county a disaster area. That declaration came to six Indiana counties later in the week, including Clark, Jefferson, Ripley, Scott, Warrick and Washington counties. FEMA established a Disaster Recovery Center in Sellersburg March 13. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, according to a FEMA bulletin online.

When the group met, a Volunteer Response Center had not yet been established. A day later, the center began operations in Jeffersonville along with a Jeffersonville-based warehouse at 700 Patrol Road for relief and recovery supplies.

Byerly went through the relief and recovery process wth Bone. Once the first emergency responders pulled out, the Early Response Teams (ERTs) with certified disaster volunteers would be arriving to help remove debris that was stacked in piles up to six-feet high across the small town of 1,900 residents. Following the ERTs, uncertified volunteers, now on ground, would help residents sort through their salvageable items and clean up the damage, making homes as livable as possible. He said, once FEMA was in the area, UMCOR and other organizations would train caseworkers to help residents with the seemingly endless paperwork.

By press time, some of the southern Indiana communities were moving into long-term recovery, a process that will take months, require thousands of volunteers and funds to buy building supplies.

Since the visit

Since Coyner and conference disaster response leaders visited Henryville, hundreds of volunteers have registered for specific times and dates when their team would be in southern Indiana to assist not only with Henryville, but also Maryville, Pekin, Holton and other communities hit by the tornadoes.

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis has sent two truckloads of supplies and $40,000 to help in rebuilding.

The Pekin UMC set up a collection center at the church the day after the storm and has since organized volunteer teams to go to residents in that area of the state.

According to Powell, churches and other non-profit groups coordinate their efforts with INVOAD, the state’s Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. INVOAD holds daily morning meetings to see which group needs assistance and how best the groups involved can ordinate their efforts. It prevents duplication of services to the same communities and works as a united force to help residents get back on their feet as soon as possible.

Churches in the disaster area working on relief and recovery include Henryville, Pekin, Emmanuel at Otisco, Holton, Madison and Hanover. Other churches have joined them.

Powell advised Bone to “accept the support of people. Let us know what you need. And remember, recovery is the rest of their (survivors) lives. It’s a new normal.”

Tom Hazelwood, head of the U.S. United Methodist Committee on Relief disaster response, was not able to be at the meeting in Henryville. He was in Illinois spending time with Illinois Great Rivers Conference leaders who were meeting in Harrisburg, Ill., leveled by similar storms that hit them the day before storms hit southern Indiana and Kentucky. Hazelwood arrived in Henryville to visit with the team on the ground on Tuesday, March 6.

Bone said that young people were already helping with relief efforts across town by stopping house-to-house to see if they could be of service. Many distributed food and water from relief tents.

“We are connected as United Methodists,” said Bone. “I feel the connection.”

The meeting ended with conference leaders holding hands and praying with and for Bone and the congregations and pastors of southern Indiana affected by the storms.

For updated information from INVOAD, visit www.invoad.com/disasters/march-2012-storms/official-message  For information about UMC relief and recovery, visit www.inumc.org/disasterresponse.

More than 450 homes in Henryville, Ind., were heavily damaged or destroyed by deadly tornadoes March 2. Long-term recovery has begun.

“Pastors from all over the United States are calling to see how we are doing.”

– Pastor Wilma Bone

Henryville United Methodist Church hosts one of many relief tents that popped up following the storms. Duracell and Tide also parked their relief trailers in the church’s parking lot.

In the church’s office, Pastor Wilma Bone discusses relief efforts with Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner and the Rev. David Powell, conference disaster response coordinator.

Construction crews worked around hundreds of piles of debris in Henryville, Ind., left by the storms.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Wilfong.

Members of the Pekin United Methodist Church hosted the collection of supplies to aid storm survivors.