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Meal ministry aids in recovery from tornado

HAVILAND, Kan. (BP)–Southern Baptists have prepared about 5,000 meals for victims and rescue workers since the most powerful tornado in recent U.S. history destroyed 95 percent of the small Kansas town of Greensburg.

John Lucas of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists told Baptist Press May 8 that the convention has a feeding unit stationed at a high school in Haviland, about 18 miles east of Greensburg.

Meals are being served from that fixed feeding site, Lucas said, and meals prepared by Southern Baptists are being sent in Red Cross mobile units to the 600 to 800 National Guardsmen, highway patrolmen and other government workers in the area.

Lucas explained that the situation in Greensburg is unique because the town was almost entirely destroyed May 4 and residents evacuated to neighboring towns and sought shelter with family and friends.

“Because of all of the displaced persons going to various cities in the western Kansas area, we didn’t have the larger ministry [involving] persons to feed and assist as we would have otherwise had,” Lucas said. “… We have been inundated with all kinds of offers from fellow Southern Baptists wanting to send volunteers, but we just don’t have any place to apply them now.”

Officials are restricting access to the town, and because of the magnitude of destruction, Greensburg will need professional help from governmental agencies designated to clean the debris and rebuild, Lucas said. In the short term, Southern Baptist cleanup crews are not necessary, but time will tell if there is a need in the long term, he said.

For now, the feeding unit is meeting needs.

“We have had as many as 19 members initially in our feeding unit to respond, and we’re currently maintaining a volunteer force of about 16 who are trained disaster members because it is a smaller feeding operation,” Lucas said. “We are getting assistance from the local Baptist association, which is the Central Baptist Association.

“We have First Southern Baptist Church of Pratt, Kan., which is approximately 35 or 40 miles due east of the affected area. They are housing our volunteers, so they’re being very supportive and cooperative,” Lucas added. “They’re allowing our disaster relief volunteers to lodge there each night, and they are also providing volunteers from their church to assist us in various tasks each day.”

Lucas estimated that the feeding unit might be needed for about 10 more days. To give an idea of the number of residents left to minister to, he said four shelters were set up immediately following the tornado, but now they’re down to the one in Haviland. And during the night of May 7, just 52 people were staying there.

“In our part of the country, we are resourceful people and resilient people, and we have family or friends or other resources that are offered to us,” Lucas said.

As residents sifted through the rubble of their homes, the death toll in Greensburg rose to 9, including an 84-year-old man who earned a Bronze Star at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, The Wichita Eagle reported.

David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, toured the destruction and called it “some of the worst I’ve ever seen.” He delivered a message from President Bush: “We are here for the long haul,” The Eagle said, adding that Bush planned to tour the damage on Wednesday.

The plan was for residents to claim their belongings before dozers could clear debris and make way for utility trucks to restore electricity, the newspaper said. Electricity then would be used in trailers for displaced residents provided by FEMA as temporary homes.

Meanwhile, experts were commending Greensburg’s tornado emergency alert system for saving countless lives. The 20-minute warning Friday night allowed people time to seek shelter in basements and storm cellars, the Associated Press reported.

“When you look around at the devastation here, it is amazing that there aren’t more deaths,” Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, told AP. “You really can’t look in any direction without seeing destruction, without seeing houses that are demolished, piles of rubble.”

The F5 tornado, which left a path of destruction 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long, also left 13 people hospitalized, four in critical condition, AP said.

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  • Erin Roach