Coalition of Conference Disaster Response Teams Help Derecho Cleanup in Iowa

Coalition of Conference Disaster Response Teams Help Derecho Cleanup in Iowa

downed tree iowa

By Shelley Lee

VIM, Disaster Response

Iowa. The name evokes images of pig farms, Hawkeye football, a magical baseball diamond in a cornfield and, believe it or not, the invention of sliced bread. But a derecho? Before three weeks ago, who had ever heard the word “derecho”?  Akin to an inland hurricane, the derecho that hit Iowa and eight other states over an 18-hour period Aug. 10-11 wreaked havoc on town and farmland alike. 

Roy and I got the call, as Early Response Team members do, from the Arkansas Volunteers in Mission and Disaster Response Facebook Page on Aug. 15. That is fast. It often takes a Conference a week or more to decide they have a disaster they can’t handle by themselves.

We talked and prayed and decided to go. On Monday, Aug. 24 we met Byron Mann from Arkansas and volunteers Andrea, Brian, Norma, and N.M. from the Great Plains Conference (Nebraska and Kansas) and Bob, Darrell, Jordan, and Charles from the Louisiana Conference at the Grinnell United Methodist Church. Grinnell, Iowa, dubbed The Jewel of the Plains, is a lovely town of 10,000 people. The church served as our base of operations for our three-day deployment and members fed us dinner upon our arrival.

On Tuesday, Byron gave us our assignments. We split into two teams: Arkansas and Great Plains were Team 1 and Louisiana was Team 2. 

tractor iowa

Our team began at “Carol’s” to work on a tree in her driveway. Three chainsaws and three limb haulers made quick work of it. The homeowner wanted to watch the work up close and said it the most fun she had had in awhile. When we left, Carol asked for information on how to donate to UMCOR!  

Next was “Harold”, with a huge tree down in his side yard. This was such a big job that the Louisiana crew (with a tractor!) had to come over and lend a hand. When we left Harold, he sent two jars of pickles he was making when the derecho hit.  

The last call for Tuesday was “Mark” who had a tree precariously balanced on his front deck. When we left Mark, he said after many problems with his own chainsaw, he went inside to cool off and prayed for God to send him some help. A moment later, I knocked on his door! It was a hot, tiring, but great day. Roy and I fixed spaghetti for our eleven team members that night then shuffled off to bed. 

Day two started with a job at “Donna’s” home – a huge tree that covered her roof, her side yard and her neighbor’s driveway. Chainsaws started running, including one on the roof, and limbs were carted to the curb. In three hours, we created a limb pile 30 feet long and 7 feet tall. 

The afternoon was spent at “Jane’s” home. Her tree had fallen on and crushed a backyard pool. We have spent some hot afternoons at the pool but never this hot.  There is little humidity in Iowa but 97˚ in the noonday sun is hot, no matter where you are. That night, the crew ate pizza and listened to the news on the latest disaster, Hurricane Laura. 

Day three turned out to be a tractor-only job for the Louisiana team so Roy and I packed the camper and started the 600-mile trip home. We drove east before turning south toward Arkansas to get a better idea of the scope of the crop damage. Mile after mile of destroyed corn crops, flattened like a steamroller had gone over them, was sad to see.  We heard that some of the downed corn might still mature and be harvested but much will be lost. We did see one enterprising farmer who was cutting his flattened corn into silage, hence cutting his losses.

The Iowa derecho was our sixth out-of-town ERT deployment – two to Florida for Hurricane Michael, one to Yellville for a tornado, one to Nebraska for their flood, and one to Fort Smith for the Arkansas River Flood.  Each was hard work; each was rewarding. 

If you are wondering if ERTs have a place for you, they do. The jobs are as skilled as Roy’s chainsaw work and as unskilled as my limb hauling. The needs are as far away as Florida and as close as your own back yard. The people you meet are unforgettable and the ultimate purpose, to show a caring, Christian presence to people through Disaster Ministry, is what keeps us going. 

Going where? Watch the Weather Channel. 

(Survivors’ names were changed to protect their privacy.)

EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into ActionRecovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into Action
Recovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

A bronze statue still stands despite the destruction surrounding it at the Mall at Turtle Creek Mall in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The tornado, rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, carved a path of destruction through the city center. Although 22 injuries were reported, none were life-threatining and no fatalities have been reported. Photo by Jonesboro Police Department.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

On Saturday, March 28, a powerful storm whipped through the Northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro, producing a large tornado that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and injured 22 people.

Relief efforts are now underway to help the more than 200 buildings that were damaged by the tornado, which was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service office in Memphis with maximum winds of 140 mph.

According to local media reports, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were caused by the tornado, which made its way through major city streets in the middle of town and through several residential areas north of the city center.

Remarkably, in part due to the current COVID-19 social distancing efforts in place throughout the U.S., no fatalities were reported from the tornado.

Despite the destruction caused to several businesses usually packed with people, including the Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding restaurants, many buildings were empty when the storm hit Saturday evening.

United Methodist Churches in the city also received minimal damage, although several church members’ homes were impacted.

The Rev. John Miles, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, said that more than 100 church members were out on Sunday morning assisting in clean-up efforts, and more would be sent out in the coming days.

“While I am grieved by the disaster I am amazed that no one was killed. The damage to many houses was enormous,” Miles said. “I feel relief that no one was killed, sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and gratitude for the many people who have flooded these neighborhoods to help.”

Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, said that at this time, access to the city is still very limited, although their team was allowed to enter on Monday and bring donations for relief efforts.

“Right now, it looks like 20% residential damage, 80% businesses, but we don’t have official numbers yet,” Mann said. “I want to say thank you to St. Paul UMC for allowing us to use their facilities for our relief efforts and First UMC for housing our volunteers.”

At Cornerstone UMC, the Rev. Kathleen McMurray said her church has been hard at work sewing face masks to protect against the coronavirus since before the tornado hit, but after Saturday they have worked to hand out the masks to disaster response workers.

McMurray said that it’s been difficult to balance the need to help the community recover from this disaster while still remembering that physical distancing rules related to the coronavirus still have to be followed.

“It is really difficult to process such loss in the midst of the rising global pandemic of COVID-19. We want to help but we also want to help safely, and so we are doing our best to listen to the needs and procedures from our Disaster Response leaders in the community,” McMurray said.

Victor Moran, a member of First UMC Jonesboro whose home was damaged in the tornado, said the support he and his family have received from the church has made a huge impact on how he’s processing this challenging time.

“The team from First Church showed up at our house this morning like a conquering army. They completed in less than an hour what would have taken me days. Then they spread out through the neighborhood serving with grace, timeliness, and excellence.

“Please convey to the whole church Teresa’s and my deep, deep gratitude for what you all have done,” Moran said.

McMurray said that despite the tragedy of the past weekend, there is still hope that can be found in all of it.

“One of the biggest things we as people of faith can do is to offer hope. COVID-19 brings with it so much fear and anxiety already. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude on top of it can be overwhelming. Being able to share the gospel of resurrection, in word and deed, in the midst of this is powerful for our community.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of disaster for Jonesboro on Sunday, allowing the city and state to potentially receive federal money for disaster relief as well.

The Arkansas Conference has also set up a donation hub for disaster relief in Jonesboro and the surrounding community. To donate to tornado relief efforts, visit our online donation website and select Jonesboro Disaster Relief. 

ARUMC, UMCOR Announce 2020 Disaster Response Academy

ARUMC, UMCOR Announce 2020 Disaster Response Academy

Disaster Response and Christian Aid Ministries partnered to build a home in Bergman after a Boone county tornado destroyed it. United Methodist volunteers are helping to finish the interior of the home. || Photo provided by Janice Mann

Christain Aid Ministries partners with the Arkansas Conference to build roofs for homes.

After a Hempstead County flash flood, Disaster Response worked to replace a home that was destroyed. Southwest District Coordinator Dan Rohrbaugh and a team from FUMC Hope helped build an access ramp for the home.

By Janice Mann

Disaster Response Coordinator

Arkansas Conference/UMCOR Disaster Response Academy
This conference-wide mega training event is for anyone wanting to help build capacity for Arkansas United Methodists’ response to disaster events. The academy focuses on being prepared to help because disasters don’t schedule appointments. Attendees will spend 12 p.m. Wednesday through 12 p.m. Saturday with UMCOR staff and consultants, conference leadership and others in training and discussion. We will dive deep into the areas that frame all disaster ministries while affirming or enhancing how our conference prepares for, responds to, and recovers from disasters.

What if disaster response is a way to transform the world for Jesus Christ? Central to the goal of this academy is our desire to grow and enhance the ministry of disaster response for the transformation of Arkansas and beyond. Come prepared to learn, to better understand how disaster response ministry works, and to make the work of our local churches, districts, and the conference in disaster response even better!

Your presence at Trinity UMC the last week in January is critical! Please register early at:

AR River Flood Update
The transition from relief to recovery has been daunting after the AR River Flood. There is a wide range of situations in the different areas affected along the river. Long Term Recovery Groups are up and working in the AR/OK River Valley area (six affected counties) and in Pulaski County. The other areas are on hold or struggling for various reasons. We have developed a Plan B and a Plan C to continue the recovery effort in those areas. Four United Methodist case managers are sharing two full-time positions to cover 3.5 of five affected areas. There are two additional case managers working in partnership with them to cover the other 1.5. Unmet needs are being identified and resources allocated to meet those needs through the case management process.

All this is made possible through donations to the conference and UMCOR after the flood. UMCOR has provided two grants after the flood to support the recovery efforts. Two additional grants were received by the Arkansas Conference as a trusted partner, one of which is designated for use in the four counties affected in Southeast AR. Current river flood recovery work projects include a rebuild in Perry and a replacement that needs access porches and steps in Houston. We are seeking volunteers to help with these two projects. As more projects are ready we will announce the volunteer needs through email and Facebook posts as well as conference communications.

Other Updates
A roof has been replaced on a home in Sebastian County after the tornado there back in the spring.

Two Boone County tornado home replacements have been built. We have had teams and partners working there. The Jefferson County tornado and Marion County tornado projects have closed with all identified needs met. Flash flooding has affected Crawford, Sebastian and Hempstead Counties since the River flood. One replacement home has been provided in Hempstead and there are three open cases in Crawford/Sebastian.

Current In-Conference projects:
Recovery efforts are ongoing after several disaster events across the state.
ECHO Village – construction of homes and facilities, Eureka Springs.

Volunteers in Mission & Disaster ResponseFebruary Update

Volunteers in Mission & Disaster Response
February Update

Volunteers in Mission

Arkansas Volunteers in Mission (VIM) and Disaster Response (DR) will host VIM and DR Coordinators from the South Central Jurisdiction for their Spring meeting. Coordinators will be introduced to the newly approved official VIM Work Site, ECHO Village in Eureka Springs. While in Arkansas the coordinators will worship together, will meet together for updates and business, will volunteer at the ECHO Village construction site and will learn about the ministries of ECHO – what they are, how they came to be and who they serve.

A recovery team from Roger’s FUMC installs cabinets in a rebuilt home that was destroyed in the April 2018 Crawford County Tornado.
|| Photo provided by Janice Mann

Volunteers in Mission Team Leader Training, St. James UMC, March 9, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., $20. Contact to register or for more info.
This training is for leaders of mission teams both domestic and international. Also will benefit ERT leaders. One of the questions being asked by providers of insurance is whether the team leader has been VIM Team Leader trained within the last three years. The registration fee covers lunch and training materials.

Current In-Conference VIM projects:

  • ECHO Village
  • Crawford County Tornado Recovery
  • Delta Dream Facility Repair
  • Contact Byron at for more information and to schedule.

Disaster Response

Disaster Response WANTS YOU!

Local church involvement when disaster strikes is vital in assisting individuals and families affected. Disaster Response Ministry wants to help local churches understand how important they are as partners in this ministry.

We would love to come to talk to your group, class, or church and begin a partnership that will make a meaningful difference when disaster strikes.
Contact Janice at to find out more.

After The Storm
United Methodists work together to offer aid in hurricane relief efforts

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Photo by Tomasz Sroka on Unsplash.

In the weeks leading up to Hurricane Florence’s arrival on the Carolina coast, residents had been warned that this was not going to be an ordinary storm for the East Coast.

Although the Category 5 hurricane – with wind speeds of 157 mph or higher – was reduced down to a Category 1 hurricane – between 74 and 95 mph winds – by the time it hit the coast, the winds were not the main worry with this storm; it was the immense amount of rain that was going to be dumped on North and South Carolina for the next week and the flooding that would occur soon after.

Nearly 1.7 million residents from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were told to evacuate before the storm came ashore, but many residents remained anyway, whether out of an inability to leave due to finances or disability, or because of a fear that leaving meant they wouldn’t be present to protect their homes when the flood waters came.

For the ones that stayed in their homes when the storm came, they soon found out that they were at the mercy of the storm. Hunkered down in attics and lofts or left to wade in the waters as it filled single-story houses, their only refuge was the women and men who volunteered to head into the storm and rescue people from homes.

UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is one group that is ready to assist in disaster relief whenever these big weather events occur. UMCOR – originally known as The Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief – was founded in 1940 by Bishop Herbert Welch as a response to those who were displaced during the bloody events of World War II.

In an address to General Conference that year, Bishop Welch stated that MCOR existed to “be the voice of conscience among Methodists to act in the relief of human suffering without distinction of race, color, or creed.”

These days, UMCOR still carries on that original mission set forth by Bishop Welch. UMCOR has three major areas of response: humanitarian relief and disaster response, sustainable development, and global health.

Janice Mann, who oversees the Arkansas Conference Disaster Response team along with her husband Byron, says that when disasters like Hurricane Florence occur in other conferences, the Arkansas team has to be ready and on standby to assist if the need arises.

During a conference call with UMCOR on Sept. 17, United Methodist Conferences from the affected areas gave a report of the state of their situation.

In the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences, heavy flooding made it hard for emergency responders to get to the areas where people needed to be rescued from their houses. In addition, the storm surge and flooding caused sewage systems to rupture and waste to spread through the waters.

In South Carolina, many of the same issues exist, and they are expecting to need volunteers in the coming weeks and months to help with cleanup efforts.

Emergency supplies will be the main need for many residents recovering from Florence.

UMCOR Sager Brown, which deploys relief supplies to disaster areas around the world, currently has ample inventory in their warehouse, but if more supplies are needed once the cleanup effort begins, a call will be sent out to request donations.

In the meantime, some United Methodist Churches in Arkansas are already doing what they can to assist in the relief efforts.

Lakewood UMC of Little Rock has already begun putting together flood buckets which will be filled with supplies that will help residents recover from the storm damage.

Joe Roitz, Communications Director at Lakewood, said that the church has been working hard to put together these disaster relief buckets through various donation drives. He said the idea for the buckets came up after VBS last summer.

“The theme was Rolling River Rampage and we always used some type of mission drive along with our vacation bible school, so that year we decided to do flood buckets,” Roitz said. “So every day, the kids would bring their supplies or their quarters to help out. And we ended up with quite a few filled buckets just from the kids bringing supplies.”

Roitz said that when Florence arrived they decided they needed to get going collecting flood buckets once again and figure out a way to send them to the people that needed help in the Carolinas.

Each flood buckets contains different supplies that allow people affected by flood waters to begin the process of cleaning up, such as liquid laundry detergent, dish soap, household cleaners, air freshener, insect repellent, and other various items. A full list can be found on UMCOR’s website.

If you or your church are looking to help out with the disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Florence, visit or contact Byron and Janice Mann at 870-861-5065. They can also be reached by email at