Communities Brace for Flooding and Clear Tornado Damage

MISSOURI VALLEY, IA (June 8, 2011) – Volunteers from Evangelical Covenant church congregations in Omaha, Nebraska, worked Tuesday to stave off flooding expected to overwhelm parts of the region while members of the church in Springfield, Massachusetts, continued to help their neighbors recover from last week’s tornado.

Members of Faith Covenant Church and Community Covenant Church in Omaha joined more than 400 other people to fill and stack sandbags in Missouri Valley. The community is one of many along the Missouri River that will be affected by record floods.

“Experts estimate the floodwaters will be between six and 10 feet deep in some parts of the town,” said Faith Covenant pastor John Peterson. “To make matters worse, record amounts of water will be released from the six dams along the upper Missouri River later this week, and it may be September or October before waters recede enough to allow people to return to their homes and businesses.”

One family attending Faith Covenant already has been forced to evacuate and told they probably won’t be able to return until November, said Peterson.

Peterson normally can’t see the river from his house, which sits above the low-lying areas. Trees normally block his view but, he says, “Now I can see several lakes.”

Several families attending churches in Sioux City and Sloan, Iowa, have already been evacuated or told to prepare to leave. Volunteers in Missouri Valley and the Iowa communities already have packed several hundred thousand sandbags.

In Springfield, the Evangelical Covenant Church canceled services on Sunday so members could assist neighbors in the area who suffered property damage from the June 2 twister that claimed four lives. In addition to helping clear trees, the congregation has provided nearly 500 meals to volunteers.

“The most immediate work in the neighborhood has been done,” said pastor Mike Mirakian. Much of that aid has included clearing trees and determining that everyone was OK.

The church and others are now spending more time helping residents who were left homeless to recover items from their heavily damaged or destroyed houses. Some of the residents “have lost everything,” Mirakian said.

“When you have a problem that is this big, you realize how small we are,” Mirakian said. “We do what we can. A lot of it is just being present and listening.”

The church building sustained minor damage even though the tornado passed over the school located across the parking lot. Youth pastor Tim Ramgren and several other staff members were preparing for evening activities when they looked out a window and saw the tornado.

The church is returning to its regular schedule this week, Mirakian said.

To see a video of the tornado crossing the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts, click here.

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