Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creston Tornado Assessment - Rev. Jonathan C. Watt - Trinity Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

What Can I Do? 

(Updated April 20, 2013, 7:50am)

Most important we are very grateful that the death toll was so low (1 was the last 'unofficial' count that I heard). There were NO deaths attributed to the storm. The most serious person was upgraded from 'Critical' status to 'Serious'. There have, thus far been no deaths attributed to the Tornado in Creston.

Here is my impression of the effects of the disaster on Creston. Please understand this is from my perspective based on information I have gained by talking to members of Trinity, and others, and my short time (almost 4 years) of living in the community. My assessments could be wrong.

The storm hit with no warning. Without the normal signs either in radar or by spotters. Some witnesses said there was no "train" sound, only an extreme change in pressure. One of our members was near the city park and said all the branches of all the trees stood straight up for several seconds. I was returning home from a member's birthday party and saw the tornado passing to the north. It was a huge upside down pyramid, with lots of little fingers. It didn't look like it was on the ground. The news reports say it was an F2. Others say that the storm is begin underrated. The official report called it "Rain Shrouded" which means you can't see the actual funnel only the envelope of rain surrounding it. The strongest part of the storm was when it passed through town.

The long term economic impact on our community is going to be quite large, especially in the long run.

The major damage was to public facilities. Hospital, South West Community College, Elementary school, AEA, although a good number of homes were destroyed along with several apartment complexes, and several businesses.

The hospital is completely destroyed and will take 30milion dollars to restore. It is a center point of economic activity here. We are (were!) a healthcare hub for the whole area all the way into Missouri. Our retail will suffer now that that care is going somewhere else. There is a huge question as to all the jobs that will likely be lost (even if temporary) through the loss of the hospital. All that said, we (Trinity) have a good number of families who are wondering about their income. The hospital was in the very final inspection phase of a 3 year renovation project. Two members of my congregation have been in charge of that project. All the work they have done for all the time I have known them is now gone. All of the hospital employees have been placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The OB will be converted to a 6 bed hospital. The ER will be converted to the Dr's clinic. The number of employees will be drastically reduced from the current. A more full service hospital could be up and running in about a year.

South West Community College sustained significant damage, including the total loss of the newly completed dormitory. Once again only God's protecting hand staved of serious casualties. The school will be closed 'until further notice'. I do not know where the displaced students will stay when school resumes. Some 150 students will now be housed at the Super 8, 4 to a room until the end of the term. Many students have been invited to live with residents including members of Trinity.

Creston Community School District (the public Elementary & High School) sustained damage to the Elementary school building. There is a whole in the commons area roof. The bus barn was severely damaged. Many of the out buildings connected to the athletic field buildings were destroyed (almost all of them were build by a member of Trinity). School should resume sometime this week.

The AEA building is completely gone, it serves most of the schools in the surrounding communities, they are a hub for computer support for most of them, I heard today that 30 some schools have no access the education specialty database that was hosted at the building.

The apartment complexes that were destroyed housed mostly low income families. Again only God's grace saved these folks from death. We will see a severe housing shortage, especially for those of low income. Union county has one of the lowest average incomes in the whole state. (I am the VP for Union County Habitat for Humanity, we use these figures to determine eligibility for the projects we do. When we build a new house it is very difficult for us to find families that qualify that can actually make the minimum payments that are needed to live in the house.) News reports say 16 multifamily units were destroyed.

Directly affecting Trinity: Sunday morning we held our regular worship services at 9:30am. (I also led worship at First Lutheran, Mount Ayr earlier). Our attendance was a bit low, but considering that travel in town was a bit limited, and the second Sunday of Easter is a low attendance Sunday anyway, it wasn't too bad. I instructed members to give to our newly established Christian Care Fund. The fund is managed by an elected board and funded by donations, our entire Thanksgiving offering and a line item in our budget. The church is several blocks south of the damage area. The only damage we received was a few shingles off the parsonage (I was not home when the wind went through). We have three members of the congregation that are department heads at the hospital. A good number of members are employed or retired from the hospital. Members are also employed by the elementary school and the high school. And a few members are employed at the city. One is the manger for Creston city public works. Two of our members lived directly in the path of the tornado. One home received significant damage, the garage was destroyed and the roof. Other members have reported damage to their homes and property. Our members have been helping them to clean up. Houses on either side were left at ground level by the storm. Several of the preschool families (not members of the church) lost their homes. The Red Cross reported to me that there were a total of 60 living units that were severely damaged or destroyed. I do not know if the 16 multi-family units were part of the total 60 that were damaged. are separate from or included in this figure.

Our Mission Board (also responsible for human care) is compiling a list of community needs by contacting all the members of the congregation, and we are beginning to collect food and clothing for longer term needs. The Red Cross is using our fellowship hall for its center of operation. They will be here for about a week. (The Red Cross finished their work on April 19.) The Union County Health Nurse gave immunizations at the fellowship hall on Tuesday.

Trinity Lutheran Church has taken over the staffing for distributing items for Disaster relief. This will all be done out of one location the Stage building near HyVee in Creston. Thus we have received a steady flow of gifts from the community and beyond. As of yesterday (19) only about 6-10 (a very small portion of those in need) families have come to the center for items. Those who have come were in desperate straights and still shell shocked. They need to be helped to get what they need. Even though most of them only had the cloths they were wearing they were still concerned that they were taking too much. We believe that a large number will come in on Saturday.

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