Christians reach out in the wake of tornado damage in the U.S.

By February 11, 2008

USA (MNN) — After last week's horrific tornadoes raked their way through neighborhoods and businesses in five Southern U.S. states, survey crews from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee are in the destruction areas. The crews, in coordination with the organization's regional disaster response managers and partner agencies, will begin to determine a course of action for clean up, providing immediate financial assistance and planning for long-term recovery.

Tuesday night brought a confirmed 67 tornadic events with winds of up to 200 mph that swooped down onto Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama.

The storms have so far caused 57 deaths and injured more than 150. Businesses, homes and schools were destroyed. All that remained of some homes is the concrete slab on which their framework stood. Semi-tractor trailers flipped upside-down in the wind, and forest areas were stripped of trees and undergrowth. Tuesday's early winter tornadoes hit in the darkness and are the deadliest the U.S. has seen in more than a decade.

Tornadoes on average take 70 lives annually across the country.

CRWRC Disaster Response Services (DRS) volunteers left Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday and have been following the path of greatest impact starting in Atkins, Arkansas, and stopping at several locations in Tennessee along Hwy. 40. CRWRC and other U.S. disaster relief organizations estimate that more than 500 homes were destroyed late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, leaving thousands homeless, in temporary shelters, and in need of permanent housing.

CRWRC's Jakob Kramer says, "We are at this moment just gathering information to see where we can get active. And,we are helping some local organizations with emergency help where needed. People are in desperate need of articles to survive."

"Although it's early in the process, CRWRC is determining a course of response to Tuesday's tornadoes, from clean-up to long-term recovery," says CRWRC Disaster Response Director Bill Adams. "There are multiple steps in the recovery process after a major disaster, and CRWRC will be there for the long-term."

Adams also said that the organization is appealing for funds to meet cleanup and recovery needs.

"Providing Needs Assessments and sending teams for a year of home reconstruction in one location costs around $130,000 for this response," Adams estimated. "With cleanup, possible multiple construction locations, and laying the groundwork for long-term recovery, the costs go up from there. With an extensive event like this, we're looking at a need that could easily go beyond $200,000."

CRWRC maintains a roster of more than 2,000 trained and experienced volunteers from across North America who give their time and skills to families who have survived natural disasters. The organization has five locations across the U.S. this year where crews of skilled volunteers spend three weeks repairing and rebuilding damaged and destroyed homes, as well as another 30 locations where one-week work teams do everything from clean-up to reconstruction.

The volunteers have become known among disaster survivors as "green angels" for their compassion — and their green t-shirts.

According to Kramer, their teams help those receiving help understand that they can't rebuild their lives without Christ. "We lay a lot of emphasis on that — showing them hope and talking about the hope in Christ. Whenever we say goodbye to the recipient, we do what we call the 'last nail ceremony,' and then we hand out an ornament of the CRWC and give a Bible to the people."

CRWRC will also explore providing small grants of up to $10,000 to individual churches in the destruction area to help them meet local needs, and in the future they may send church groups from congregations across the U.S. for short-term volunteer assistance in recovery and rebuilding.

To help tornado survivors, financial gifts designated "February '08 Tornadoes" can be mailed to CRWRC, 2850 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids, Mich., 49560-600. Gifts can be phoned in to 1-800-55-CRWRC or given online by clicking here.

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