Disaster News.net March 22, 2004
Emotional clouds hang in KS
FRANKLIN, Kansas (March 22, 2004) —
Many homes have been repaired but clearing the emotional damage in Kansas
– where it's tornado season once again – could take longer. Ten months after
twisters ripped through the town of Franklin and other nearby communities,
"the intensity in emotion is just phenomenal," described Kip Kennedy, disaster
recovery coordinator for Tornado Interagency Recovery for Southeast Kansas
TIRSK, a coalition of faith-based and secular organizations helping people
recover from the May 2003 tornadoes, has been funded by the United Methodist
Committee on Relief, Church World Service, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance,
and a local group called the Pittsburg Area Community Foundation.
It's not just a few people feeling emotional stress, Kennedy said. "Entire
communities are affected. There are people at every stage of personal recovery.
It's a long process."
For months now, when a severe storm passes, Kennedy has been calling people
who live alone to check on them. "The other day we had a good round of thunderstorms,
and there was one person I usually call who I didn't call," he said. "She
called me and asked why I hadn't called. She was really shaken up."
It's that simple outreach – checking on your neighbor – that's vital right
now, Kennedy said. "That has very much been the role of the churches here,"
he said. "I often hear clients tell me 'my church has been very supportive.'
"And spiritual healing is part of the process, part of the long-term closure,"
The Rev. Steve Cole, pastor at the Girard United Methodist Church, just west
of Franklin, said he, too, has noticed people are still anxious. "We're coming
back into the time of year when we start having tornadoes again," he said.
"People are more tense, and there's more stress on them when any storm starts
To add to the angst, he said, some people are still battling their insurance
"For some people it's been slow working through their insurance," agreed
the Rev. Ted Wynn, pastor at the New Life Baptist Church in Franklin. "A
lot of houses haven't been rebuilt."
And as parents have coped with the stress of recovery, children have been
vulnerable to their own ongoing emotional trauma, added Sue Wynn, his wife.
"I've been with some children when storms come, and they're really scared,"
she said. "We were with children at camp this summer, and the deputies came
by and told us there was a tornado watch. We had a shelter to go to, but
some of the children were just crying their eyes out."
The Franklin Community Council – all volunteers themselves in this a town
of about 400 people – is also advocating for long-term recovery with a fundraising
campaign. The most critical need is $14,800 is for a storm siren, said council
spokesperson Phyllis Bitner.
Plans for a community park are also underway, and the council hopes to raise
"We're an unincorporated community," Bitner said. "It was a lovely little
community. We've worked so hard. We need a storm siren in the worst way."
Franklin also needs housing for seniors, Craig Stokes, president of the council,
reported, but that can't happen until a sewer system is installed. "Many
of the homeowners that lost everything in the tornado had lived in Franklin
for 40, 50 and 60 years," he reported. "They have a desire to return but
for many of them rebuilding is not an option. They have been forced to find
living quarters elsewhere. How truly sad it would be if they could not spend
the remainder of their lives in their hometown.
"Developers have discussed building senior housing," according to Stokes,
"but until sewers are in place this is but another project on our wish list."
As volunteers in the town continue to advocate for these projects – some
of which they were fighting for before the tornadoes even struck – it can
be tiring, said Bitner. "We're starting to feel like when you go to war and
you're completely worn out and frazzled."
It's the work of TIRSK and of the Franklin Community Council – and the volunteers
those groups have attracted – that has brightened people's lives, said Cole
and other local pastors. "There have been so many donations of people's time
and materials. And volunteers are still coming in."
The council, working with area clergy, will hold a service titled "Remembering
the Past – Looking to the Future" on May 4, 2004, the year anniversary of
The tornado disaster, in its own way, has been a time of spiritual renewal
for people, said Rev. Wynn. "It's been a spiritual boost," he said. "We've
seen people in church who weren't regularly attending before but are now.
It spurred a spiritual renewal in a lot of people's lives."
TIRSK now has closed 75% of its caseload, said Kennedy, and in another two
months will be able to disband. But residents may still have a regional disaster
response coalition in place, since their state may soon have a Community
Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) in addition to its statewide Voluntary
Organizations Active in Disaster.
"The COAD would fill the role that TIRSK has had," explained Kennedy.
Meanwhile, many people in Kansas are still anxious every time they see a
storm cloud. "We have our fingers crossed," said Kennedy. "It's that time