Members of the Waples Memorial Early Response Team took a break as they cleared debris that blocked access to a home in Tuscaloosa County, Ala.
The Early Response Team from Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison recently returned from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the members aided with the cleanup from spring storms.
Operating as a Volunteers-in-Mission team under the auspices of The United Methodist Committee on Relief, this was the team’s third deployment since its creation in the fall 2012.
In April, Tuscaloosa County sustained extensive damage from an F-1 tornado. The tornado snapped and uprooted hundreds of trees and caused minor shingle damage and tore down fences of numerous homes.
The debris from the damaged trees, many of which were over 100 years old, left roads impassable. The Waples team also came across a trailer park that was heavily damaged from trees falling upon the trailers, crushing them.
The team’s primary job was removing the trees from homes, farms and fence lines to allow the residents of Tuscaloosa County to reclaim their lives and return to a sense of normalcy.
The team’s work in Alabama differed from their previous deployments. In their first missions to Granbury and Cleburne, they cleaned up the debris of homes leveled by tornadoes and helped residents find the few personal items that remained. In Moore, Okla., they repaired fences and helped clear rubble from a barn that was destroyed.
Virtually all the work in Alabama required chain saws. “I think we cut up more trees than there are in all of Grayson County,” the home of Waples Memorial, said one team member.
The same line of storms passed through Arkansas, and team members expected to be deployed there. But the needs in Alabama proved more urgent because of a lack of volunteers in the area.
“It was a long trip, but we made it,” said one team member.
Much of the work involved removing trees toppled by a tornado.
Team leader Gary Hale called it “a God thing.” The local coordinator, the Rev. Rock Stone, sent them to a home, where a woman told them, “I knew you would be here. I prayed this morning and God assured me that help was on the way.”
They learned that the woman’s husband worked out of state and that she provided 24-hour care for their grown daughter, who was permanently on a ventilator. Eight large trees were uprooted and made the home almost inaccessible. Tears of joy were shed by all at the opportunity to make a difference.
The team passed on high praise and compliments to the host church, Taylorville UMC.
“We were treated like royalty,” said Ralph Jones, an original member of the team. The local church treated them to relaxing dinners, fellowship, an ice cream social and a children’s choir performance.
“They let us know how much we were appreciated, and that makes all the work worthwhile,” Jones said.
“It’s hard work,” said Hale, “and it requires a huge commitment. But when you see the difference it makes, you feel like the hardship is only a minor inconvenience.”
The Waples team has about 35 members, many of whom work behind the scenes to make the deployments possible. Most are from Waples, but several are from other United Methodist churches in Grayson County, and two are members of other denominations. Ages range from the 30s to the 80s.
After the long trip, Hale said, “Give us a little time to rest and we’ll be ready to go again!”