Photo: Tornado survivor Edith Raynes of Harrisburg, Ill., hugs a Samaritan's Purse volunteer in front of her house, which was significantly damaged by the storm (Samaritan's Purse).
In late February and early March, dozens of EF-4 tornadoes slammed Midwest states and left countless homes leveled and many people dead. The storms stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Following the storm outbreak, residents, their communities, churches and disaster relief aid organizations took fast action within the hard-hit areas.
In each of the five cities of Harrisburg, Ill., Madison, Ind., Henryville, Ind., West Liberty, Ky., and Charlotte, N.C., the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) worked alongside Samaritan’s Purse to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the survivors.
Other relief aid organizations that responded to the crisis included Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Matthew 25 Ministries, Hope Crisis Response Network, Convoy of Hope, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and Operation Blessing, among others. Local churches and neighbors in each of the towns also came together to help.
Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for Samaritan's Purse, arrived in Madison, IN days after the disaster. “In Madison, it was more of a rural neighborhood we were working in," he said. "We saw neighbors helping neighbors. One house we pulled up to had about 40 cars in the driveway. People were helping folks salvage what they could from destroyed homes. The church Samaritan's Purse partnered with, North Madison Christian Church, was very accommodating and welcomed us to come work alongside them and help the community."
When a disaster occurs, teams of assessors determine if a response is feasible. Then, they evaluate the scope of need and what work can be done.
“What we look for is people who don’t have a support system to help them through this struggle,” said Keith Stiles, deployment manager for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team of disaster chaplains. “Those are the people we are trying to assist, the ones who are in the most need.”
Edith Raynes, 86, was one of the many homeowners that Billy Graham’s teams reached out to in the city of Harrisburg, Ill.
“I had just gone to bed about 10 minutes before the tornado hit," she said. "I hadn’t gone to sleep yet. All I heard was one loud boom and I saw this window pane flying at me.
“I didn’t know the storm was coming. I hadn’t heard any weather reports. The sirens in Harrisburg didn’t go off, until after I heard the loud noise. I have never experienced anything like this before, and I hope I never do again. It was a disaster.”
Raynes, who described herself as being badly underinsured, said her home was significantly damaged. Most of the roof was blown off, siding was damaged and one front wall was gone. Multiple windows were also destroyed, her garage was moved up against the back porch and several trees were uprooted. Her neighbors’ properties had extensive damage as well.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers came to Raynes' property to clean up the debris. She also cherishes the Bible they gave her, which was signed by all of the volunteers. “They did everything they could think of to make it a little easier,” Raynes said. “They not only helped me with my work, but they helped me spiritually.
“Faith in God is the only hope we have. After the shock, the first thing I said was, ‘Thank you, Lord for letting me live.’ The advice I would give others is to be prepared for such a thing as this. In order to be prepared, we have to know our Master.”
According to officials, both short- and long-term needs have to be met. Disaster relief aid can last anywhere from a few days, weeks and months, up to a year and beyond.
“After a disaster leaves the media attention and once the first couple of weeks pass, a situation often gets forgotten about and supplies dry up very quickly," said Tim Mettey, vice president and disaster relief coordinator for Matthew 25 Ministries. "We help the towns or cities maintain the help that they are giving to their community. Here’s an example from Henryville. A lot of the churches are currently stocked with supplies, but those will run out in the next month or two. What we do is send out supplies every other month. Needs are going to come about that they didn’t anticipate before.”
When Samaritan's Purse program manager Todd Taylor arrived in Henryville, he expected to see some of the damage that had already been shown in the media – cars strewn about, trees blown down, houses off their foundations and mobile homes flipped upside down.
“The sight that sticks out in my mind the most was seeing a school bus that had been picked up and swung into the front of a restaurant," he said.
Teams worked in Henryville for three weeks. There were 1,685 volunteers helping, who worked 14,672 hours.
“In those three weeks, our teams took in took in 203 requests for help and we were able to complete 152 of those,” said Taylor. “Some of them we were asked to help were helped by other organizations. There was nothing we could do for others, because their property was so badly damaged.”
Volunteers Shawn and Jeni Mattingly, from the Louisville, Ky., area, served with Samaritan’s Purse teams in Henryville, Ind., and Marysville, Ind. Shawn also volunteered last May in Joplin, Mo.
“I drove across the bridge from Louisville to Indiana and did a missions trip,” said Shawn Mattingly. “Disaster relief without a doubt is a mission field.”
He shared a moving story about one lady who gave her life to Christ.
“We were about to tear down what was left of this lady’s home," he said. "Our equipment was literally running and ready to go. She said: ‘I just wanted to come out and say thank you, but I don’t want to be here, because it’s too emotional for me. I’ve lived here for 20 years and raised my children here.’ The chaplains from the Rapid Response Team were also there. After we talked to her, we went back, our machines were running and everyone climbed up in their cabs to get ready for her to leave. She was standing in front of the house for 20 or 30 minutes. We were waiting and waiting. Finally, we shut everything down. Then, she got in her pick-up truck and drove away. The chaplains came over to us and said thank you so much for not starting. She just gave her life to Christ, right here on the street in front of her house, before it got destroyed.”
One individual, Rob Geiger of Loveland, Ohio, found an insurance card on his farm that belonged to one the Henryville tornado victims, Steven Shaw.
The debris traveled about 130 miles to Geiger’s property from Henryville. Upon finding it, he felt like God wanted him to do something to help. As a result, he raised more than $1,460 in cash, checks and gift cards. Plus, a collection of toys, a bike and bedding was presented to the family. (Donations can be mailed to: The Shaws, c/o Rob Geiger, P.O. Box 25, Loveland, OH 45140.)
“Wednesday evening, following the tornado is when I found his medical insurance card," Geiger said. "It was a God-thing, because it wasn’t there earlier in the day."
Geiger did research and found the Shaw family. They were safe, but lost everything. That’s when he posted a note on Facebook asking his friends to help.
Ginny McCabe is an author, feature and entertainment writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. You may email her at [email protected], or visit www.gmwriteon.com.
Publication date: April 11, 2012