Preparing to pick up the pieces
by Ralph B. Davis
PAINTSVILLE — Seven weeks after a band of deadly tornadoes swept across Northern and Eastern Kentucky, killing 23 people, the initial shock has faded and the cleanup is well underway. But long-term efforts to rebuild and recover are only just beginning, with some predicting it will be years before life gets back to normal for everyone.
On Wednesday, many of those tasked with the responsibility of helping storm victims pick up the pieces took part in an introductory training session provided by Church World Service, the oldest faith-based disaster recovery service in the United States, representing 37 Christian churches.
Those attending the training at Mayo Methodist Church included local churches and social service agencies from Floyd, Johnson and Magoffin counties, as well as members of the Johnson County Long-Term Recovery Committee, which itself is composed of churches and social service organizations.
“Our role as a national body is to bring lessons learned and best practices, so hopefully local groups won’t make the all the same mistakes we have in our past,” said Bryan Crousore, an emergency response specialist with Church World Service.
Crousore covered topics such as dealing with volunteers, finances and communications, and he said the training was a good start for the recovery effort. He said one of the most important messages he wanted to convey was that response to the disaster would require a “whole-community approach.”
“This is too big for one church, one agency or one collection of churches to handle,” Crousore said. He later told the group, “I can’t say long enough, strong enough, how important it is to get the whole community moving and shaking on recovery.”
Crousore also noted the importance of keeping the community informed of developments, because the recovery would take at least two or three years and some could grow impatient with the pace.
“It is important that the community know progress is being made, because it’s going to seem like it’s taking forever,” Crousore said.
Prestonsburg Presbyterian Church Pastor Clark Desarro-Raynal attended the training and said he felt it was very helpful, not only due to the lessons imparted, but also in the partnership among so many from such different backgrounds.
“It’s good to see others who have an interest in long-term recovery,” Desarro-Raynal said. “It’s been a learning experience.”
Desarro-Raynal noted that, while Eastern Kentucky has experience in dealing with disasters such as floods, there is no such familiarity with the destruction caused by tornadoes or the response necessary. He pointed to Crousore’s lesson that morning that “every disaster is local.”
“This is our disaster, so we’ve got to take care of it …” the pastor said. “There’s always going to be some unmet needs, and it is nice to see this community organizing around that.”
James Michael Howell, executive director of Big Sandy Area Community Action Program, which has been selected as the fiscal agent for Johnson County donations, was particularly interested in the volunteer aspect of the training. He observed that a proper response to the destruction would require many, many hours from volunteer case managers, who would help victims through the long process of getting the service and support they need.
“We need to get started immediately getting case managers trained,” Howell said.
Johnson County alone has had 497 people register for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Crousore said of that number, 50 would typically have significant unmet needs, though due to the poverty level in Eastern Kentucky, that number could climb higher in this instance.
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