GP disaster volunteers help in tornado relief

8/1/2016

A charred foundation, gnarled trees and piles of metal siding are all that remain on Scott Howard’s property, northwest of Eureka, Kansas.

His 9½ acres suffered some of the worst damage of EF3 and EF2 tornadoes that hit Greenwood County on the night of July 7.

“The tornado came in and turned the house into toothpicks,” Howard said. “Threw everything everywhere all over my property and other people’s property.”

The Rev. Hollie Tapley, Great Plains Conference Disaster Response coordinator,
works with Early Response Team volunteers to clean up debris from a
tornado that struck the Eureka, Kansas, area. Photo by David Burke

Among the first to arrive at the scene was the Great Plains Disaster Response ministry. Wearing neon green T-shirts, volunteers from across Kansas and Nebraska pitched in to help Howard, as well as those in Eureka, a city of 2,500 southeast of Wichita.

“These guys are awesome,” Howard, a retired motel building contractor, said of the crew working on his property. “I’ve had more strangers show up to help me than you might think. It’s very nice. It’s good to realize that not everybody’s concerned with everything else in the world.”

The crew from the Great Plains, led by the Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, remained a constant presence on the property for the rest of the month.

“I was thinking it would be six or seven months – or maybe the rest of my life – cleaning this up,” said Howard, who has another house in New Mexico and was uncertain at the end of July what his plans might be.

“It was depressing losing (the house), but it was also depressing looking forward to the future,” he added. “These guys … really helped me out a lot, shaved months and months off of my work.”

In the first days after the tornado, Tapley and the Disaster Response ministry were in town helping tarp roofs, passing out water, Gatorade and snacks and providing emotional and spiritual care to many of the 33 homeowners who suffered damage to their property.

The two tornadoes hit 168 homes. Of those, 34 were destroyed, 24 suffered major damage, 40 minor damage and 71 others were affected in some way.

Among the first homeowners Tapley met was Howard.
 

How To Help

Those who want to help can contribute financially to the efforts in Eureka and in other places of need. Mail contributions to the Great Plains Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 4187, Topeka, KS 66604.

“The very first time I met him, right after the tornado, there was a humbleness, a genuineness to him that pulled the heartstrings of everyone who was here that day,” she said. “Just listening to him tell his story and show his land and what was – we just decided right quick that we needed to come and help him.”

Three weeks after the tornado, Great Plains volunteers were sorting debris piles, burning wood and recycling any metal that might have been found in the area.

On the bright side, Tapley said, “we did find his golf clubs.”

Among the volunteers was Elvie Aikens of Wilsey, Kansas, working with her husband, Charles, to clean up the area.

“We’re told to help other people, help our neighbors. So we do this periodically, whenever we can,” said Elvie, who kept a lighthearted approach while working.

“We enjoy being out and meeting other people,” she said. “This is our way of ministry.”

Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, via email at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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