Eureka church plays vital role in tornado recovery

David Burke

7/11/2018

The Rev. Hollie Tapley, Great Plains disaster response coordinator, talks with Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer at the Eureka Community Center. Photo courtesy Eureka Herald.
A week and a half after an EF-3 tornado hit the town of Eureka, the Rev. Hollie Tapley says, it was tough to tell that damage had been done to the Greenwood County, Kansas, community.

“If you didn’t see the tarps on the roofs or the boarded-up windows, you never would have known a tornado went through that town,” Tapley, disaster response coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, said of the June 26 storm.

While a 2016 EF-2 went through and caused damage to the tops of trees and higher structures, Tapley said the more recent storm was more on the ground level.

“It completely uprooted some of these 100-, 200-year-old trees,” she said.

Now, Tapley said, the town is in the long-term recovery mode, with district case managers coming in to meet with homeowners and make plans. About 12 homes were destroyed.

More than 1,000 volunteers, including 30 volunteer Great Plains early response personnel, worked in the city for seven days straight, with help from those in nearby cities of El Dorado, Emporia and Topeka.

“It was a well-oiled machine as far as the debris removal,” Tapley said. “There was a lot of community support, as well as surrounding counties and cities, that made the first phase of the cleanup click by unbelievably.”

Tapley attended services on July 8 at First United Methodist Church in Eureka and thanked the congregation for its assistance to the storm victims.

Not long after the storm, it was announced that the church would be the shelter and the headquarters for American Red Cross operations.

“They were the first to open the doors, and because they had electricity and there was no damage to that part of town, it was a reasonable location for the Red Cross to set up their shelter and their command post,” Tapley said. “It provided the residents that night a place to come that was cool and get some rest, but it also provided volunteers an opportunity to come in and cool off.”

Tapley said she was impressed by the willingness to help by members of the congregation, even offering her a place to stay when she told them she and other volunteers slept in church pews.

“The hospitality of the members of that church was phenomenal, as always,” she said. “They did it two years ago and they did it again this time.”

In a letter to the Eureka congregation and its pastor, the Rev. Hyun Jung Choi – whose appointment officially began a few days after the storm – Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. congratulated them for their work and compassion.

“I can only imagine how exhausted you are and how exhausted your congregation and the whole community must be this Sunday,” Bishop Saenz wrote, in a letter read July 1. “A day of Sabbath is very appropriate to step back to praise, worship, and thank God for God’s goodness and ask for spiritual strength and power to continue helping those in need.”

Tapley learned in conversations with the mayor of Eureka that 400 people left the town of approximately 2,000 after the 2016 tornado, and now “that is a fear again.”

“I hope not,” she said. “I hope we and other agencies can continue to provide that hope and that sense of ‘Hang in there, and let us walk beside you, and let us get you back to a new normal.’”
 
David Burke, communications department, can be contacted at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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