When a deadly chain of intense storms rapidly intensified and dropped dozens of tornadoes during the afternoon and evening of March 31, 2023, the Mid-South District included communities that were hit especially hard: Little Rock and Wynne, Ark, as well as the town of Covington and rural McNairy County in west Tennessee. Several LCMS church members in those communities were among the many whose homes were completely lost or severely damaged, and many lives were lost, as well.
Fortunately Grace, Knoxville, had recently hosted Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) trainings on March 4 and March 25, and the classes had attracted students who showed lots of enthusiasm for volunteerism!
The 38 newly trained LERT volunteers joined Mid-South’s existing teams in Paducah and Hopkinsville, Ky., and Batesville, Ark., giving the District a total of 82 LERT trained volunteers, some of whom (Hopkinsville) are also chainsaw trained, and will provide a home for the District’s new skid steer and our disaster trailer.
When the March 31st disaster struck, LERT teams also came from Oklahoma and Tyler, Texas, to support the Batesville teams’ response in Little Rock.
Jan Simko, Mid-South District Disaster Response Coordinator, reported that about 3,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and many families displaced, mostly in North Little Rock, Amboy, Sherwood and Jacksonville. Ark.
LERT assistance was gratefully received. A Jacksonville native left this heartfelt note: “I wanted to thank you and your congregation for your acts of kindness and compassion for my family My words can’t accurately describe my gratitude, but I cannot thank you enough. GOD bless all of you!”
“We knocked on many doors with no response,” she recalls. “I left business cards at homes with minor damage thinking that homeowners may return. There was already some rebuilding going on, mostly roofs, within the first two weeks, but this will be a long-term rebuild—probably 1-3 years,” she estimates.
The need for such teams will almost certainly continue, and volunteers are rising to the challenge.
Newly formed LERT terms at Trinity, North Little Rock, and Hope, Jacksonville, received training on April 10 and 11, and the Knoxville team underwent basic and advanced chainsaw trainings in late April.
If your church is interested in LERT training, contact Jan Simko at 931-200-1777.
Continuing prayers are requested for the safety of our district LERT teams as they pursue their ministry to those stricken by natural disasters.