(PNS) The scene was not unfamiliar to Greg Smith, a member of the National Response team for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, as he assessed damage in Taylorville, Ill. early in December.
“The tornado went right through the residential part of the community,” he said. “Very few businesses were affected. It was mostly residential. The destruction was incredibly serious: houses without roofs, siding — the mayor said, ‘You won’t believe it, but that house had brand new siding.’ It sure didn’t have any when we were there.”
For some readers, it may be news that there were tornadoes in the Midwest the first weekend in December. While it did not make headlines the way hurricanes or wildfires have recently, the storm system that went through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma last weekend packed a wallop, with 23 tornadoes reported touching down in Illinois alone, according to the Washington Post.
One of the hardest-hit communities was Taylorville, a Central Illinois town of more than 11,000 that was struck by an EF-3 tornado with winds between 136 and 165 miles-per-hour that was half-a-mile wide at its largest point, according to the Peoria Journal-Star. It left 51 homes destroyed, another 50 severely damaged and more than 500 buildings affected, according to Smith and fellow PDA team member Kathy Montgomery.
Thankfully, there were no fatalities in Taylorville. There were 30 injuries, with one person still hospitalized as of Friday, Smith and Montgomery said.
On Dec. 3, the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois requested and was granted an initial assistance grant of $7,500 to address the impact of three tornadoes in Taylorville and surrounding areas. The grant request estimates a recovery period of 18 to 24 months.
“This is a disaster for that community that will not get a lot of public attention,” said Jim Kirk, PDA associate for National Disaster Response. “But for the people who were impacted, it is a significant event and PDA stands with the Presbytery and the community to offer the resources of the denomination to help in the response and recovery.
“We’re thankful that we have the connectional church, so that we can bring resources and a presence to that particular community.”
While Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has a presence at major national and international natural and human-caused disasters, Kirk says most situations the organization responds to never make national headlines, though they have a tremendous impact on the people living through them.
In Taylorville, Smith noted the disaster “disproportionately affected the poorest part of the community. It is typically the case that tornadoes leave the poor poorer.”
Montgomery said she was aware of seven single-parent families seeking assistance in the aftermath of the storm.
Unimpacted by the tornado was First Presbyterian Church of Taylorville, under the leadership of Rev. Michael Evanchak. The church has been active since the tornado in feeding people and assisting with recovery, including church members who lost homes or suffered serious damage. Smith and Montgomery noted an active member of the church had lost his home to a tornado for the second time in 10 years.
“What’s making a difference in this community … is the community is working together,” Smith said. “They are off to a very fast start in terms of putting together a group that can be the nucleus of a long-term recovery committee. And what I am very proud to see is that the ministerial association, which has been together for years — of whom the Presbyterian pastor (Evanchak) is the chair — they are taking essential lead in terms of the reconstruction of the community.
“They’re aware they have a long-term process in front of them.”
by Rich Copely, Presbyterian News Service