Tzu Chi’s Midwestern Winter Tornado Relief Begins

Midwest  |  December 29, 2021
Powerful tornadoes batter multiple U.S. states in December of 2021. Photo/Courtesy of Shutterstock

Written by Meizhen Qian, Weiling Wang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On December 10–11, 2021, a deadly tornado outbreak generated a trail of devastation that spanned several U.S. states, beginning in northeastern Arkansas and advancing into Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  

Upon receiving news of the situation, Tzu Chi volunteers in the U.S. immediately began emergency relief procedures via an international conference — reporting the status to Dharma Master Cheng Yen, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s founder, and to volunteers at Tzu Chi’s global Headquarters in Taiwan.

To Comfort & Support

Volunteer Wang describes the items in each box for the monthly distribution. Photo by Tom Chen.
Chong Hsieh, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Region, reports what volunteers had seen and heard regarding disaster assessment during the conference. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center, at least 50 tornadoes were confirmed. The storms traveled from Arkansas toward the Great Lakes, causing the most significant damage in Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky.  

Among these, Mayfield, Kentucky, experienced some of the worst impacts. Approximately 28,000 people across Kentucky were expected to be without electricity Saturday night, and at least 70 lives were tragically lost in Kentucky alone. Many buildings in the town were completely destroyed. 

The founder of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, has emphasized in daily meetings that she is concerned for people’s safety in disaster-impacted areas, and wished to provide swift relief. In addition to her desire to help affected families, she also hopes families who have survived this disaster can continue to inspire love in the world. Especially in times such as these, we each are guided to practice cultivating good thoughts and helping our neighbors through life’s great challenges.

We need Bodhisattvas to relieve the suffering in the world. So, if it’s too far for other volunteers to get in the disaster zone to help, then we can call for more people to help locally. We should count our blessings, cherish them and sow more blessings. We must all participate and do more in disaster relief.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Founder of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

Volunteers aim to complete relief distributions for 1,000 families before December 24, Christmas Eve. According to the preliminary plan, every affected family will receive a cash card with a value of $1,000 and winter supplies such as eco-friendly blankets and eco-friendly scarves. 

“We want the survivors to have the relief supplies distributed by Tzu Chi before the holiday,” said Sixian Huang, the General Director of Tzu Chi Global Volunteers. “Striving for timeliness is also because the evening of December 24 is Christmas Eve in the United States, and it is additionally meaningful to distribute it before that.”

As the hardest-hit areas were chiefly in the central U.S. and included in Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Region, the volunteers under the Midwest Region were in charge of the disaster relief mission. Chong Hsieh, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi Midwest, shared what volunteers learned through assessment during the conference. 

“We listened to the survivors as they shared the horrible memories of when the tornado hit,” recounted Chong Hsieh. “They also showed volunteers that they had nowhere to live; their houses were almost completely destroyed.”

Wading Through Wreckage to Offer Compassion & Relief

Adam, a disaster survivor in Defiance, Missouri, describes the harrowing experience to volunteers. Photo/Wenzhen Wu
Adam’s home was severely damaged. Photo/Wenzhen Wu

Chong Hsieh further explained that, as the disaster area spans several states, the first actions taken by volunteers would be to care for and assess the needs of survivors in Missouri, which is the closest location to Tzu Chi’s Service Center, on December 12. The two Missouri cities of St. Charles and Edwardsville were among the hardest-hit areas.

Four volunteers from Tzu Chi’s St. Louis Service Center formed a disaster assessment team and went deep into the Defiance area of Missouri. Bijia Zhuang, a volunteer in charge of the disaster assessment on that day, said, “Many places in the area were severely damaged. Trees were uprooted, and roads were blocked. We had a hard time getting to know the situation of the survivors. One of the families lost more than one relative two days ago. Survivors and relatives of this family can only set the table, put food and drink offerings to the deceased in front of the destroyed house.”

Wreckage and debris up to a few feet high could be seen across the disaster area, homes torn apart by the tornadoes. Vehicles were stacked in piles, and countless missing persons were presumed to be buried under debris. The hearts of loved ones ached profoundly. Volunteers also met a survivor named Adam, who was confirming the damages to his house with his family at the time. He recalled the moment the tornado passed through his neighborhood, saying, “Our family was hiding in the basement. It was all dark after the power was cut off. We could only hear this violent, horrible howling wind. Everyone held together to hide, and the children were scared and screaming. A tree fell and hit our basement door.”

Adam’s family escaped the catastrophe in time to take refuge, but they still have to face the challenges of repairing their seriously damaged home. All that was left of their neighbor’s home, however, was the foundation. The storm had leveled the whole building. 

“The husband was in the hospital before the tornado. The wife, who stayed at home alone, disappeared after the disaster,” Adam expressed.

Adam’s neighbor’s house is completely leveled by the tornado. Photo/Wenzhen Wu
After learning the situation, Tzu Chi St. Louis volunteers go deep into the hardest-hit areas to carry out an assessment mission in preparation for further relief. Photo/Wenzhen Wu

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