Organizations Band Together to Aid Areas Hit by Tornado

It is not just local churches, city work crews and local volunteers who are helping to rebuild in Columbus, Miss., after the tornado last weekend. Organizations from far and wide have joined together to lend a hand.

by Cristina Carreon, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo / March 1, 2019
Pastor Steve Blaylock looks over the broken lumber, loose paneling, insulation, and destroyed pews in the First Pentecostal Church in Columbus, Miss., Sunday morning, Feb. 24, 2019 after a Saturday tornado. While no-one was injured during the storm, at least one person was killed in town among the shattered businesses and wrecked homes. AP/Rogelio V. Solis

(TNS) —  Large piles of brush and debris sat awaiting pickup, street lights hung by their wires and belongings from the homes of Columbus residents sat in garbage bags by the curb five days after a tornado hit the city of around 24,000 on Saturday.

Jennifer Middlebrooks and Jonell Foster stood outside of a home on Waterworks Road in Columbus where a tarp was being spread to cover a missing roof by volunteers. Middlebrooks and Foster are two volunteers with Fairview Baptist Church in Columbus. Several church volunteers have been spending the past week helping clear the damage from the storm.

“On Sunday, we went canvassing in the neighborhoods hit to just see how we could assist,” Middlebrooks said.

Volunteers have been doing chainsaw work on brush and debris, tarping roofs and general clean up.

“There was no damage to our church, although a few of our church members had damage,” Foster said.

“The storm kind of jumped around a bit,” Foster said.

It is not just local churches, city work crews and local volunteers who are helping to rebuild in Columbus after the tornado last weekend. Organizations from far and wide have joined together to lend a hand.

Ed Hultgren, training manager at Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization, was one of about a dozen volunteers doing chainsaw work this week in Columbus, cutting down about 40 trees on Wednesday alone.

“We got here Sunday and in the first week, we usually try to do 100 semi-loads of brush,” Hultgren said. The group has also worked with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to distribute supplies.

Diane Sherrod, regional coordinator for the Families First for Mississippi Columbus, has been on the ground providing assistance to storm victims in the area around 14th street.

Families First has partnered with the MEMA to provide assistance with volunteer efforts already being organized in the Columbus community.

Sherrod said the home of a young woman receiving assistance from the center in Columbus was hit by the tornado and sustained significant damage to the roof, rendering the residence unlivable. The woman has nine children.

“We are working with them on finding some resources for their short-term needs, and we plan to follow up with them with some case management so we can help them with their long-term needs,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod said the center’s first priority was to provide assistance to their client, but there were others in the community without shelter or food.

The day after the tornado hit, the center partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of the Golden Triangle on 14th Street, which has storm damage, to distribute overnight bags of food and supplies to storm victims.

“The executive director had put together some lunches and we went into the communities that were affected and we dispersed lunches to those that were victims of the tornado,” Sherrod said.

An hour away from the site of the damage, several Tupelo-based nonprofit organizations have organized supplies and volunteers to assist those in Columbus without food, shelter and other necessary services.

John Brown, executive director of the North Mississippi chapter of American Red Cross, said there are 100 staffers working to assist those affected by flash flooding, tornado damage and river flooding.

“We are still sheltering at the Townsend Center and also doing mobile feeding via our emergency response vehicle,” Brown said.

So far, more than 1,600 meals and snacks have been served in Columbus from mobile food trucks, and the organization has begun disaster assessments and bulk distribution of needed supplies, such as clean-up kits to more than 300 homes just in Lowndes County.

The operation is set up at the chapter office in Tupelo. Red Cross staffers are doing community trainings to recruit volunteers for the shelter, bulk distribution and feeding, and fundraising for these efforts.

“Seventeen counties are significantly impacted right now, we are forecasting a level three disaster response that puts us at $250,000 cost, so we will be raising money to offset that cost,” Brown said.

Some Tupelo organizations may be smaller in size, but not in commitment to help those affected by the last weekend’s storms.

Katina Holland, founder and CEO of Wear It Well, a Tupelo-based nonprofit organization, said her daughter inspired her to do something to help in Columbus. Wear It Well has worked this past week to gather donated supplies and transport them to storm victims in Columbus with the help of United Way in Lowndes County.

“My daughter lives in Columbus, she wasn’t there when it happened, but immediately after the tornado she said she wanted to do something,” Holland said.

Columbus is not the only city affected by a week of heavy rain, strong winds and eventually severe storms. Due to massive flooding in Saltillo, faith-based nonprofit organization Eight Days of Hope began working to alleviate flooding in Saltillo homes.

Eight Days of Hope partnered with First Baptist Church in Saltillo the day after the storms reached their peak to offer commercial dehumidifiers, commercial fans, muck-out kits for families to gut their homes, and generators where needed. Eight to 10 volunteers have been in the neighborhood helping folks dry out their homes.

“They have trailers there with dehumidifiers and fans that people who were affected by the flood can put in their homes and get all of the moisture out of their homes, First Baptist Church, a couple of our members live in the neighborhood and we have helped carry these fans over and help out,” said Sherry Flanagin, a West Baptist Church member who is working with Eight Days of Hope to help Saltillo residents.

“Some of the houses weren’t too bad, the water just came in over the flooring and ruined floors, so we are having to take the flooring out, then we are having to cut the sheet rock out about four feet high to replace that and the insulation that was damaged by the water,” Flanagin said.

Flanagin said it is muddy, but the standing water has finally receded.

The nonprofit organization has also committed to help spray homes for mold at a later point.

cristina.carreon@journalinc.com Twitter @Cris_carreon90

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