“We want to give people hope”: Americans come to the aid of tornado victims
Some remove broken tree branches from the ground. Others prepare hot meals and shelter for those who have nowhere to turn. And many are collecting money, toothpaste, soap and other items for the countless in need.
Americans across the country have rallied to help after last week’s tornadoes ravaged the South and Midwest, killing at least 90 people and displacing hundreds.
More than $ 9 million was raised for a state fund set up in Kentucky, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s office said, with the first expenses to go towards funeral and burial costs for families who have lost loved ones. A telethon hosted by the University of Kentucky Athletics brought in an additional $ 3 million for the American Red Cross. And volunteers, supported by national and local humanitarian organizations, are helping in the hardest-hit areas.
One of them is Glenn Hickey, 67. Hours after the tornado, the retired funeral director received a call from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team in Kentucky asking him to help with recovery efforts in Mayfield, which suffered the worst damage.
Hickey, a regular Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, has gotten used to these calls and remains “excited.” So he took it up a notch on Saturday and helped bring together more volunteers. The next day, he drove four hours from his home in Monticello, Ky., To Mayfield, where he and other volunteers removed tree branches from roads and driveways and repaired roofs damaged by the tornado.
More than 100 of them take time to rest and eat at First Baptist Church in Murray, about 25 miles from Mayfield. Barbecues, beans, pies and other meals are prepared for them at church, as well as for first responders and storm victims in Mayfield, where there is currently no water or electricity.
“I’ve seen the devastation caused by the tornadoes, but I’ve never seen such extensive damage,” said Karen Smith, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief’s food coordinator for Kentucky, who volunteers to organize and prepare meals.
“It’s a little overwhelming because it’s across the state,” she said. “With that kind of mess, sometimes you just don’t know where to start.”
President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the federal government would pay for the first 30 days of tornado recovery in Kentucky, the worst-hit state by far in a swarm of tornadoes that devastated entire communities. Beshear said more than 100 people were still missing. Deaths have also been reported in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.
Smith, 68, says she continues to do this work to help in any way she can. She is still recovering from COVID-19 on her own, having contracted it in October 2020. But she says she doesn’t feel its ill effects when helping others.
“We want to give people hope,” she said. “You watch it all, and it’s hopeless. I think if they have hope then they can start to heal.
More Southern Baptist volunteers are expected to arrive in Kentucky this week. The American Red Cross, churches and other charities have also mobilized to set up shelters and distribute meals, water and snacks in affected areas. But some choose to help themselves.
Jim Finch, of Clarksville, Tennessee, went viral on social media this week after transporting his meat smoker to Mayfield to cook for the residents. Elsewhere, hard-hit University of Kentucky Bowling Green medical student Abbigayle Rawls raised more than $ 130,000 through a GoFundMe fundraiser.
Shortly after emergency alerts rang on her phone and she was released from her shelter, Rawls says that she and her classmates realized the urgent need for help for residents of the affected towns. Rawls herself was spared, but said her grandmother was staying with her because her house across town lost power.
“Things on the ground are bad enough, and we’re going to need help and it’s going to take time to rebuild,” she recalls telling her colleagues. A member of her class suggested that they find a way to help, which prompted them to start fundraising.
Experts say Americans should exercise caution when donating through crowdfunding sites because private fundraising organizers are not required to disclose how they spend the money.
Donations for Rawls’ appeal have reached the UK and Canada. The effort is entirely student-led, but the university administration approved medical students using the college name in the post.
“It’s amazing to see the whole world come together and just help,” Rawls said.
Requests for supplies arrive in her inbox about two to three times an hour, she estimated, and the supplies are already being distributed to people. Rawls’ peers, for example, removed as much wound care and bandaging as possible from a store’s shelves when a demand for the items arrived from Dawson Springs, Ky., Another devastated city. Someone drove the supplies to people who needed them, she said.
As for the bulk of the money, Rawls said she and her peers are forming a group to figure out how best to use it to help people in the long run.
In Missouri, Randi McCallian, 35, collects essential items, such as wipes, trash bags, soap and pet food that she can deliver to Hayti, a town that has suffered approximately 200 damage. miles from her home in Newburg. The stay-at-home mom, who moved to Missouri with political aspirations after her run for the Colorado State Senate failed last year, said four people gave her $ 190 to get more stuff .
Kevin Cotton, mayor of Madisonville, Ky., Said that although the supplies donated are excellent, it is difficult for a small area to find a place to store them temporarily. Most of his town was untouched by the tornado, but nearby Dawson Springs was hit hard, so he lent himself to help.
“What we need most right now is a lot of prayers for this community,” Cotton said. “We have a lot of volunteers. We have a lot of supplies coming in. We have donations from across the country. The great thing that we need is for people to be patient with us. “
Associated Press editors John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, and Glenn Gamboa in New York contributed to this report.
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Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press