News and Tribune

May 22, 2013

Area agencies prepare to provide tornado relief

2012 Southern Indiana tornado gives special connection to victims in Oklahoma

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE —

As footage of the Oklahoma tornado continues to fill many television broadcasts, some of those affected by the deadly storm that tore through Northern Clark County in March 2012 are feeling an eerie familiarity.

But, it is that familiarity which has provided a unique insight to the needs of the survivors of the devastating Oklahoma tornado.

The Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen of St. Luke’s church in Jeffersonville serves as the chair of March2Recovery, the leading relief organization of last year’s tornado.

“We learned quite a bit about what was most helpful to us in the aftermath of the tornadoes,” Mills-Knutsen said, adding that encouraging words are more valuable than household goods for those left distraught by tragedy.

“In the aftermath of the storms, there were piles of clothing and toiletries and even canned goods, and especially things like furniture and household goods. There really is no place to handle them or no system in place to distribute them to the people that actually need them, so those kinds of things may be needed, but certainly not until further down the road,” she said.

Mills-Knutsen said feet on the ground will be more useful in the following months and years instead of the time directly following the devastation.

“Right now we have to let the professionals do their jobs in terms of clean up,” she said.

She said donations of food and housewares and willing volunteers are helpful, but that need is not yet realized on a large scale in Oklahoma.

“People will need that kind of help. They just don’t need it yet,” she said. “It will be another month or three months or six months before they are really ready to welcome volunteers, and then they will need all they can get.”

She suggests people in the area who are inclined to provide assistance to those suffering in Oklahoma to donate to relief organizations and to send thoughtful correspondence to the victims. 

“One of the most helpful things that we experienced in the immediate months and days after the storms was people from all over the country just sending us messages of encouragement — sending donations, but with them a card or a letter,” she said.

Mills-Knutsen said people can find ways to connect with Oklahoma residents by seeking out connections that already in place.

“We are encouraging people to reach out across the networks that they are already a part of,” she said. “If you are a church, find a church in that area and send them a message and a card and let them know about your prayers. If you are an insurance agent, or a server at a restaurant or a retail worker, find somebody within your chain or within your company and connect with them and let them know that you are there and that you are supporting them.” 

She said emotional support has a larger effect than some may assume.

“It really does make a difference,” Mills-Knutsen said. “It seems like such a small thing, but it helps to know that people all over the world are remembering and are with you and are praying for you and are thinking about you.”

With her experience working through March2Recovery, Mills-Knutsen said she knows the severe anxiety people in Oklahoma are experiencing. 

“Right in the immediate aftermath, people are relieved to be alive and anxious about people they have not heard from,” she said. “People are very likely in a state of shock and will be for some time to come. We saw that here when we were working after the March 2 [2012] tornadoes. People are learning how long it is going to take for this recovery to happen.”

She said survivors of the EF-4 March 2 tornado are still being moved back into their homes 15 months later and expects that process to continue for six more months

“Our neighbors in Oklahoma are just beginning that process and on a larger scale, so it may take even longer to get everybody back home again,” Mills-Knutsen said.

She said the Oklahoma EF-5 media coverage is triggering negative reactions for those touched by the March 2 tornado.

“Seeing the images on TV of the schools and the loss of life in the schools in Oklahoma is bringing up, for a lot of  people here, the memories of March 2,” Mills-Knutsen said. “For many people, it is reopening their own trauma, and they are experiencing anxiety or fear or panic that they thought they had started to move past, but it has opened it all back up again.”

She said those in the area who are experiencing trauma should seek help from organizations such as March2Recovery and LifeSpring Inc. in Clark County. March2Recovery can be reached at 502-599-8557.

Catie Wheatley, community chapter executive for Clark County American Red Cross, said the organization is gearing up to coordinate relief efforts for those affected by the Oklahoma tornado and some area volunteers have been deployed. 

She said two emergency response vehicles — each manned by two volunteers from the Red Cross Kentuckiana Region — departed for Oklahoma on Tuesday morning and three additional teams were preparing for deployment.

“We distribute a lot of bottled water from those vehicles,” Wheatley said. “Those are things that you know from the very beginning that are going to be needed on the ground. We pre-deploy as much as we can in that sense.”

Wheatley said Red Cross officials are contacting 343 Red Cross-trained volunteers who live in six counties across Southern Indiana for possible volunteer efforts. She said only those who have received training through Red Cross will be considered for deployment.

“We want our volunteers to have the skills and the expertise to meet the needs on the ground, but we do find at times like these people do want to be involved, so we try to do the training as quickly as we can.”

She said people interested in becoming a volunteer should visit the organization’s website — redcross.org — to begin the volunteer process. For those not interested in volunteering with Red Cross but wanting to help the Oklahoma tornado victims, Wheatley said financial donations are gladly accepted.

“We always accept financial contributions to disaster relief,” she said. “[Financial donations] and our volunteer base help keep us strong and ready to respond at a moment’s notice.”