By Kim Plummer Krull
Nearly a week after historic storms ripped through the South, Eleanor Allen looks at the rubble where she once lived and wonders aloud how she can put her life back together, asking “where to start?”
The member of Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Birmingham, Ala., described how she and her daughter, Ashley, held each other as the April 27 tornado leveled their home. “It’s just amazing that nothing hit us because nothing was protecting us at all,” the psychologist and school counselor said in a video interview with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC). “By the grace of God,” she said, she and Ashley escaped with only minor injuries.
(To watch the video interview with Allen and other survivors and see pictures of tornado damage in Alabama, visit www.lcms.org/disaster/tornado or go to the WR-HC Facebook page.)
As the WR-HC Disaster Response team continues to check on congregations and their neighbors in shattered communities, Rev. Glenn F. Merritt says survivors are asking how they can recover and rebuild from the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.
“They are feeling so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start,” said Merritt, director of Disaster Response. “When someone from our national church body shows up and says we’re ready to help, that can be enormously encouraging and comforting.”
On Monday, May 2, Merritt and WR-HC’s Rev. Carlos Hernandez and Rev. Darrell Howanitz traveled with Rev. Perry McCullam to the devastated homes of Allen and another LCMS member family in Birmingham, one of the hardest-hit cities. McCullam is an LCMS pastor who serves Pilgrim and Prince of Peace Lutheran churches in Birmingham and Zion in nearby Bessemer. He also assists St. Paul, also in Birmingham, which has no pastor.
The men got the ball rolling on a WR-HC grant to Pilgrim Lutheran to assist the Birmingham families with emergency needs, including helping with costs for transitional housing and to rent storage space for salvaged possessions.
At the same time, volunteers from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in nearby Gardendale, Ala., helped families sort through debris for personal belongings to load into trucks and transport to storage facilities.
Another WR-HC grant in the works is to the Good Shepherd congregation to assist with relief efforts in their own community, including helping two families with major home damage. One of those families visited the church for the first time on Easter.
“Our congregations want to help their members, but they also want to reach out into their communities,” Hernandez said.
The next day, the WR-HC team drove toward Ringgold, Ga., a community where the destruction is so bad that many survivors still have not been allowed to return to their homes and search for possessions, according to Merritt. Accompanying the trio was Rev. Jonathan Horsman, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Chattanooga, Tenn., where members are taking part in a variety of relief efforts.
“They are the nearest LCMS church to Ringgold, and they are actively reaching out to a community in need, assisting with collections of clothing and other material goods, a safe place for storm victims and other activities,” Merritt said.
As they approached Ringgold, Hernandez talked about the “massive destruction” the team has seen over the past four days: leveled homes and businesses, fields of debris and “chainsaws roaring everywhere.”
“I don’t think that people [beyond the impacted South] understand the complete devastation that people are dealing with,” Hernandez said.
While the damage has been compared to the toll taken by Hurricane Katrina, Merritt said he is concerned that this disaster is drawing far less attention, both from the media and donors. He urges fellow LCMS members to “rise to the occasion.”
“This is an impossible situation for people who have lost homes or had their homes damaged to handle on their own,” he said. “They need their brothers and sisters of the LCMS to rise to the occasion. Our local churches that are reaching out to assist their communities really need you, too.”
Because LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s tornado relief fund was depleted by last year’s tornado relief efforts, gifts are urgently needed to respond to this spring’s historic onslaught of twisters and storms in the Midwest and the South.
To contribute to the Synod’s tornado disaster response:
- Mail checks (noting “Tornado Disaster Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438.
- Make an online donation for LCMS “Tornado Disaster Relief” (click here).
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
This story was produced by LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted May 5, 2011