Tornado damage of Katrina-like proportions

Tornados were not uncommon in northern Indiana when I was growing up, but none of them ever touched down in my hometown of Fort Wayne.

According to Native American legend, or so I heard at the time, the three rivers that converged downtown – the St. Marys, the Maumee and the St. Joseph – protected the city from funnel clouds.

Then, years later, when I was visiting my family there over a Memorial Day weekend, a small tornado skipped across a shopping center and subdivision not far from the restaurant where we were eating dinner, causing some damage but no injuries. The protective spell of the rivers, apparently, was broken.

Everyone seems to be vulnerable these days. This spring’s tornado activity across the United States is setting new records for death and destruction.

Today, almost a third of the city of Joplin, Mo., lies in ruins as the death toll threatens to rise above 117, making it the deadliest U.S. tornado since the National Weather Service began keeping track of such things 61 years ago.

To date, 482 people have died this year – in Missouri, Alabama, North Carolina, and other states — as the result of tornados, about eight times the average number in any given year, according to CNN.

Even the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, a veteran leader of numerous tornado and hurricane relief efforts for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is surprised by the numbers of tornados that have hit highly-populated areas.

“Even with all the early warning systems, we have in place, theses storms still crop up,” he told me yesterday from the Detroit airport, where he was boarding a connecting flight to Missouri.

What has been left behind is damage of Katrina-like proportions.

And that is one of the problems for UMCOR. Parts of at least 14 of the denomination’s annual (regional) conferences have been affected by tornados, but only a little more than half a million dollars has come into UMCOR for 2011 Spring Storms UMCOR Advance #3021326 to help fund relief efforts in those conferences.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $66 million given for the church’s response to Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.

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