U.S. tornado losses include two from Texas church

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The council chair of a United Methodist Church and his wife, a former secretary of the church, died in likely tornadoes that roared through Van, Texas, May 10.

The Rev. Mark McClanahan, pastor of Van United Methodist Church, confirmed the deaths of David and Brenda Tapley, who he understood had died in their home. David Tapley was a certified lay minister in the denomination.

Funeral arrangements were still pending on May 12.

Other church members suffered property damage and the church’s youth director, Jeff Siemens, had major damage to his home in storms that clobbered this community about an hour east of Dallas.

More than 70 tornado reports were submitted to the National Weather Service over the weekend, with suspected twisters also touching down elsewhere in Texas and in Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado and Kansas. Earlier in the week, dozens of tornadoes wreaked havoc in Oklahoma.

The U.S. tornado season started slowly this year compared to 2014, when 50 to 60 tornadoes struck southern states in April, said Greg Forrester, U.S. disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. While the geographic location of the tornado clusters is different this spring, “the numbers are pretty similar to what we experienced at this time last year,” he added.

‘New normal’ in Van

In Van, an estimated 30 percent of the small city suffered damage. “What was normal yesterday may not be normal ever again, but we’ll find a new normal and God will see us through,” McClanahan told United Methodist News Service.

Texas Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie issued a statement offering prayers of support. Utility crews used the large parking lot at Van United Methodist Church and the church itself became local headquarters for Samaritan's Purse, a relief organization that is coordinating volunteers.

"Teams are going out," McClanahanan said.

Members of Van United Methodist were responding to the Tapleys' deaths with grief, but also with service.

"Most of the church folks I’m hearing form are busy doing what they can do to get the community back on its feet," McClanahan said.

Early response teams from the Texas Conference and North Texas Conference expect to be in Van by May 13.

"I have teams itching to go," said the Rev. Marji Bishir Hill, disaster response coordinator for the North Texas Conference.

DeWitt Cox, her counterpart in the Texas Conference, said the volunteers will likely be retrieving items blown from homes and bringing them to a central location for retrieval by the owners. The volunteers may also be involved in debris removal, he said.

Close Call in Morgan mill

Morgan Mill (Texas) United Methodist Church lost several trees and had the power go out after a twister passed through Sunday.

“They worshipped in the dark yesterday,” said Vance Morton, communications director for the Central Texas Conference.

One of the downed trees landed on the church’s electrical box, but did not sever any wires. Had that happened, a fire could have resulted, he explained.

“The tree that hit the church was an old pecan that was planted back in the 1950s as a sign of renewal following the last confirmed touchdown of a tornado in Morgan Mill,” Morton said.

-- Sam Hodges

In other areas affected by tornadoes over the weekend, Byron Mann, the disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, arrived in Nashville, Arkansas — where two people were killed in mobile homes — to assess damage there.

"It's bad enough," he said by phone. "We've got around 75 to 80 homes involved, including our local church parsonage. ... The damage on the houses is from trees falling on them."

The parsonage of the First United Methodist Church in Nashville will need a new roof and repairs to a couple of rooms, due to damage from a fallen tree, he said.

Mann said volunteers from various Arkansas Conference churches were expected to form a 10-person team and begin helping with tree and other debris removal on May 12.

The Arkansas conference still has teams doing recovery work in several communities hit by tornadoes on April 27, 2014. That work is part of a multi-agency effort that includes other faith-based, state and local organizations.

The long-term recovery stage is where most conference seeking disaster funding from UMCOR, said Forrester, who noted that the U.S. conferences and districts “are pretty well equipped for the relief stage.”

Still, he expects there may be a few emergency grant requests this tornado season to help with early response. Donations to UMCOR’s United States Disaster Response Advance #901670 help support the denomination’s continuing response to all U.S. disasters.

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]

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