Central Texas Conference ERTs Lead Ellis County / Glenn Heights Tornado Response and Recovery Efforts

by J. Vance Morton* (Dec. 30, 2015)
 
If not for the twinkling lights, inflatable snowmen and stockings hung by the chimney with care, it would be easy to believe it was time to make summer vacation plans, not set the GPS for over the river and through the woods to get to Grandma’s. The unseasonably warm weather experienced throughout most of Texas this December has fostered thoughts of outdoor barbeques not roasting chestnuts on an open fire. The warm and humid conditions also served to set the stage for a terrifying and deadly display of the power of nature when the cold weather normally associated with December came crashing in during the evening hours on Dec. 26.
 
As many as 9 confirmed tornadoes ripped through Central and North Texas Saturday, Dec. 26 claiming 11 lives and leaving many neighborhoods facing “total devastation.” While cities and towns in the North Texas Conference bore the brunt of these tornadoes, communities and families of the Central Texas Conference are also sifting through the rubble left in the wake of an EF3 tornado – particularly in and around Ovilla, Red Oak and Glenn Heights, Texas.
 
Early Response teams from across the state and other national organizations were on the scene as quickly as possible once the storms blew out of the area; and, as has been the pattern of many disaster situations during the last few years, the Central Texas Conference Disaster Response team has been tabbed to take the lead in the response and recovery efforts for the Ellis County and Glenn Heights areas.
 
Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for the Central Texas Conference, reported that as the “usual and expected initial level of chaos/disorganization” began to abate, the CTC Early Response Team (ERT) was quickly recruited to lead the recovery and response efforts.
 
“When I arrived at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), I learned that one of the area Baptist churches had initially stepped up to coordinate volunteers,” Laraine recounted. “I was asked how many people the CTC could quickly supply. We have a big and active group of ERTs in Ovilla, so I estimated that we could provide 20-30 rather immediately. Suddenly we were in charge of all the volunteers. We had about 60 people gathered and working in about 45 minutes.”
 
“I am very proud of our teams and also of the reputation we’ve built over the years along with UMCOR. Our teams have rocked it! They  have been great leaders for the other volunteers - great servant leaders.”
 
ERTs from the CTC and other organizations have been working in the area since Sunday afternoon (Dec. 27), assessing damage and helping homeowners salvage whatever they can. They plan to continue this work through the end of the year at the very least. As in any disaster situation, the initial response phase will be a constantly changing, day-by-day process. “As of 9 p.m. Sunday, the official count of homes affected or destroyed sits at 72*,” said Laraine. “That number seems low based on what I have already witnessed, so I expect it to sharply rise.” 
 
(*Editor’s note: Laraine's experience served her well. As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29, the number of homes effected had risen to 172 - the total as of Monday, Jan. 4 is more than 300.)
 
Churches and individuals are reminded to curb their desire to help those in need by cleaning out their closets and pantries or making a run to their favorite discount warehouse store and purchasing cases of water and other supplies. As in the case of any disaster situation, the needs of the communities affected are still in the early stages of assessment and the CTC Disaster Response Team is following its process. ERT and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) groups will be notified if and when their assistance is needed and a call for specific supplies will be made should that become necessary.
 
“In these types of disasters most of our work may be tied to clean up. However, as is often the case, we are discovering people already who either do not have insurance or may be under insured,” Laraine stated. The best way to immediately help is to make a financial donation to the Ellis County / Glenn Heights Tornado Disaster Relief Fund by sending a check to the Central Texas Conference Service Center (3200 E. Rosedale St., Fort Worth, Texas, 76105) - please note on the check that this is for Ellis County/Glenn Heights Tornado Relief. You can also send funds to the UMCOR Disaster Relief Advance Special No. 901670.
 
Watch ctcumc.org for any updates on this ongoing situation and please keep all those affected by the storms here in Texas and across many southeastern states firmly in your prayers.
 
*Vance is the director of Communications and IT for the CTC.  vancemorton@ctcumc.org