May 27, 2014

CWS Material Aid Provides Comfort in Tornado-Battered Baxter Springs

On Sunday, April 27, Rusty and Laticia Spence of Baxter Springs, Kan., decided to have supper out in Joplin, Mo., a 30-minute drive away.  They had no idea their home was about to be destroyed by a tornado – or that a CWS Emergency Cleanup Bucket would provide some comfort.

The restaurant meal was a welcome break from their busy lives.  Laticia was studying for her last exam, that Tuesday, toward a bachelor’s degree in human and family science at Northeastern Oklahoma University. 

She also works caring for newborns to 12-month-olds at O-Gah-Pah Learning Center in Quapaw, Okla.  Rusty works as a forklift operator for Tamko Building Products in Joplin.  They have three children, none of whom were home the night of the tornado.  Two were away at college and a third who just graduated was at work.

The Spences’ meal was interrupted around 5:30 p.m. when panicked family members and friends began phoning to verify they were safe.  Stunned to learn their city and their home had been hit by a tornado, the couple ran for their car.  As they fought through heavy traffic to get to their house, they got the first damage reports: “Your house windows are out.  There’s no garage left.”

That wasn’t all.  The tornado had shifted their large four-bedroom house six inches off its foundation and turned it sideways.  It crumbled the sandstone foundation, ripped off the back porch and pulled the back wall away from the house. 

“We’d cleaned before we left and put everything away,” Laticia said.  “But inside, nothing was where we’d left it, and tree branches, leaves, shingles and dirt were everywhere.  Everything in the kitchen was scattered.  The dresser drawers were open and everything in disarray.  What had been on top of our dresser had fallen into the drawers – except for three Bibles, which stayed put.”

Realizing their vintage home – built in 1896 – was lost and would have to be torn down, the Spences set about salvaging what furniture and other contents they could. 

In all, the April 27 tornado destroyed about 100 homes and businesses and injured 34 people in Baxter Springs.  That southeastern Kansas city, population 4,162, is one of dozens of communities – including Quapaw, Okla., where Laticia works – in more than 20 states that have been affected by violent storms since April 26.

The havoc that has been wreaked is measured by the dozens of lives lost, hundreds of people injured, and thousands of homes and other structures destroyed or damaged by tornados, straight-line wind, flooding and mudslides.

In Baxter Springs, First Baptist Church agreed to serve as the distribution center for material aid to tornado survivors.  “So many people have called or come by to ask what we need,” said Delores Crain, the center’s coordinator. 

Soon, the center was well stocked with canned goods, bottled water, diapers, baby food, toiletries, boxes and other goods – including CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets.  The Spences got one of the first buckets.

“We were lucky to find a house to rent, but I said that before we moved anything in, we needed to clean it,” Laticia said.  “Actually, the CWS cleanup bucket was awesome.  It saved us. 

“We got our stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer out of the old house,” she said, “but they were coated with a black, nasty, tarry substance that sticks to your hands.  The grease killer in the CWS bucket cut right through it.  Our fridge and stove look brand new.  Our dryer has never been this clean.  It even cleaned the gunky stuff off our wood furniture.”

Reflecting on the events of the last few weeks, Laticia said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.  It’s an emotional rollercoaster.  I cried for three days until there was no cry left.  We lost a big part of us.  But I still have all my kids and my husband.  You have to pick up and move on.  I know things are going to turn out ok.”

Two postscripts:

*  Laticia’s professor at Northeastern Oklahoma University offered to postpone her final exam, but Laticia said, “I wanted to finish so I sat down and finished.”  She took the exam two days after the tornado and graduated May 10.

*  Joplin, Mo., is still recovering from the catastrophic 2011 EF-5 tornado that killed 158 people, indirectly caused four more deaths, injured hundreds more and caused $2.8 billion in damages.

In the wake of this spring’s violent storms, CWS is offering CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets, Hygiene Kits, Baby Care Kits and School Kits to affected communities.  To date, CWS has filled requests from Baxter Springs, Kan., and Jefferson County, Ala. 

At this point CWS expects to process up to five material shipments, with the processing and freight costs estimated at $20,000.  Then CWS will offer its long-term recovery expertise to affected communities, budgeted initially at $40,000.

Contributions to support CWS emergency response efforts may be sent to CWS member communions or to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. (REF: 2014 Spring Storms, Appeal #628-A.)  See more information.