‘Our biggest need right now is people’

Flooding creates disaster in NE Arkansas

Volunteers from Arkansas United Methodist Disaster Response and Headwaters Relief Organization work together on May 13 to remove flood-damaged materials from a home in northeast Arkansas.
Photo by Ida Rose

By Amy Forbus

Flood waters in late April and early May inundated homes and crop fields across Arkansas, particularly in the northeastern part of the state, prompting Governor Asa Hutchinson to declare a state of emergency in 36 counties. Arkansas Conference Disaster Response is among the organizations offering help—and is asking for more assistance from UMCs statewide to continue meeting emerging needs.

As of May 23, disaster response workers had determined that of 60 affected addresses in Lawrence County, 14 do not require assistance with clean-up or repairs to homes. ARUMC Disaster Response is currently making referrals to partner responders as needed; trying to contact more affected homeowners to determine other needs; and making progress on mucking out houses where teams and individual volunteers are available to do so.

ARUMC Disaster Response currently has an adequate supply of disaster response materials. They request that churches with space to store a small stock of supplies assemble a few UMCOR kits, such as cleaning buckets, to keep at their own campuses on standby in case more are needed. (Find kit instructions at www.umcor.org.)

“Our biggest need right now is people,” said Byron Mann, disaster response co-coordinator and Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the Arkansas Conference. Individuals are coming to the Northeast District to help right now, but teams would be more effective.

They should be ready to start installing new materials into damaged houses any day, so people with drywall experience, or people willing to learn to hang it, are in demand. All skill levels are needed.

“Most of these are old, old houses that at one time had really nice hardwood floors, and they’re ruined,” Byron Mann said.

Walnut Ridge UMC is serving as home base for disaster response efforts in Lawrence County. There’s been an unofficial division of labor by county among denominations with response teams: Church of Christ workers are taking the lead in Randolph County, Southern Baptists in Clay County and United Methodists in Lawrence County, where there have been at least two weeks spent on mucking out flooded houses.

Teams who come to help can be housed either at Walnut Ridge UMC or Wayland Spring Camp, a United Methodist facility near Imboden. Staging and housing is coordinated out of Walnut Ridge UMC, where a gathering of volunteers takes place every morning at 8:15 to provide assignments and updates.

Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator, has begun talking with communities about long-term recovery. She just returned from a national meeting of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), where she learned some new ideas for effective response.

“It’s not just this phase,” Janice Mann said of the immediate aftermath. “It goes on.”

To schedule a time to help, contact Byron Mann at 870-826-0268. He says more calls for help are coming in every day.

“The reality is setting in that this is a little bigger than what they think they can handle,” he said of the homeowners and local recovery efforts. “I’m hearing a little more desperation in the voices that I’m talking to.”