Wednesday, June 15, 2011

After the Storms: Neighbor Helping Neighbor

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood discusses his experience when visiting Joplin, Missouri right after the tornado hit.

The human story in each disaster we attend is unique each time. This spring, the unique thing is the relentless nature of the storms. The last time I remember a tornado hitting a densely populated area was in 1999, in Moore, Oklahoma. In spring 2011, tornadoes hit populated areas in Raleigh, North Carolina; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Joplin, Missouri; and Springfield, Massachusetts, to name the most ferocious.

Being present with survivors in the aftermath of these events, you get caught up in the emotions. I was in Joplin, Missouri, the day after the tornado hit there. The evening before, people had been out, doing their shopping, living their normal lives. The twister hit at about 6:00 p.m. When I arrived, just 24 hours later, I got an eerie feeling as I drove down the street with District Superintendent Sandra Nenadal and other companions from the Missouri Annual Conference. You could see lights in the rubble. They were interior dome lights and parking lights of cars buried underneath the debris; the batteries were still working. Usually, after a tornado, you will pass houses with spray paint on the side indicating they have been searched; there will be additional marks if there were casualties. In Joplin, there were also marks spray-painted on the sides of cars. There was so much loss of life.

Two days later, I went back again to Joplin with my UMCOR colleague Cathy Earl. So much had changed. At UMCOR, we always say that the first response after a disaster comes from one neighbor helping another. Cathy and I felt so much pride in seeing people helping each other. There were people who live in Joplin who had been trained by UMCOR, and they knew what to do. Seeing that, I realized in a fresh and immediate way that what we do every day is important. It means something to somebody, and we’re touching their lives.

By Rev. Tom Hazelwood
Assistant General Secretary, US Disaster Response, UMCOR

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