In the days since tornadoes and severe thunderstorms moved through the central and southern United States, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance continues to work with affected mid-councils to assess needs.
PDA has been in contact with seven presbyteries: Southern Kansas, New Hope (eastern North Carolina, St. Andrew (Mississippi), Middle Tennessee, Arkansas, Eastern Oklahoma and North Alabama. Of those, Arkansas and St. Andrew have requested that members of PDA’s National Response Team come to assess damage.
The team members who visited the Presbytery of Arkansas last week spent time in Mayflower and Vilonia, the two towns hit hardest by the tornado. They met with first responders and volunteers from across the state, said the Rev. Bill Galbraith, general presbyter.
“I could tell that it was deeply appreciated — just to come in and have someone say thank you,” Galbraith said. “It’s amazing how people begin to find ways to help each other.”
Although neither Mayflower nor Vilonia have a Presbyterian church, there is a Presbyterian church in Conway, which is between the two towns. In the future, that church could serve as a volunteer staging area, Galbraith said. There are three Presbyterian congregations in nearby Little Rock, none of which were damaged.
The April 27, 2014, tornado struck Vilonia just three years after the town was hit by another tornado. A long-term recovery group had just finished its work from the 2011 tornado, Galbraith said. In terms of fatalities, the 2014 storm was worse; the death toll is now at 16.
As in 2011, local faith groups are coming together to work on recovery, Galbraith said, adding that local congregations have offered a “real outpouring of support.”
“There’s generally a very positive attitude that the communities will move through this … but there were people killed, so there’s a lot of grief,” he said.
The same storm system that brought the tornadoes hit parts of Florida with heavy rainfall; Pensacola received 28 inches of rain in 24 hours.
Although the flooding was severe, no Presbyterian churches suffered major water damage and there was no loss of life, said the Rev. Ted Land, coordinating presbyter of the Presbytery of Florida.
“People are just trying to dry out and get on with getting things back in order,” Land said. “There’s no despair that I’ve heard of. We’re just wet.”
Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola offered up its parking lot as a temporary holding area for Port-A-Potties that were later distributed to residents without water and sewage. The church also held a neighborhood picnic after the rain, giving residents a chance for fellowship.
“Trinity is using this as an outreach for the community around them,” Land said.
The Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network (FLAPDAN) is assessing damage and figuring out who needs help. Once those assessments are completed, FLAPDAN might call in members of PDA’s National Response Team for more help, Land said.
Galbraith and Land encouraged Presbyterians who want to help with recovery to donate to PDA.
They also asked for prayers.
“Mainly, Presbyterians can pray for us and encourage us by their prayers,” Land said.