Written by Meizhen Qian, Weiling Wang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
After multiple tornadoes brought about destruction in the U.S. Midwest in December of 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers immediately launched emergency relief preparations. Volunteers began their careful assessment in Missouri and additional hard-hit areas across Kentucky. Their goal: to ensure large-scale relief distributions could help 1,000 households before the upcoming Christmas holiday.
On December 10–11, more than 50 tornadoes raged across eight U.S. states. Soon after, Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized to develop a disaster response plan, and carried out assessments deep within the hardest-hit areas to confirm survivors’ needs.
The First Disaster Relief Distribution
This historic tragedy has aroused the concern of Tzu Chi volunteers across the globe. All Tzu Chi branches in the United States sent relief supplies to the disaster areas as quickly as possible, preparing for the upcoming large-scale distribution.
On December 13, the volunteers held a disaster relief consultation meeting with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency to determine the details of the first disaster relief event for 95 affected families, which would be held in Defiance, Missouri, on December 17. Additionally, in Edwardsville, Missouri, where at least six people were killed when a tornado impacted an Amazon warehouse, another group of Tzu Chi volunteers visited the site as of December 12.
Volunteers could clearly see the roof of the building had collapsed, and the damage was severe. Even from a distance, a whole row of crushed and warped vehicles could be seen in the parking lot outside the facility. As the facility is private property, volunteers had obtained further information regarding the situation via police officers stationed on-site, and offered their heartfelt care and consolation to the affected families.
Tzu Chi Midwest Region volunteers responsible for the tornado relief work contacted emergency relief organizations, and coordinated and dispatched relief supplies, while preparing for disaster assessment in the hardest-hit areas.
Winter Relief Work
With a Tzu Chi pendant hung in the car and Master Cheng Yen’s portrait on the dashboard, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi’s Midwest Region, Chong Hsieh, led volunteers on the drive south on December 15 to assess the disaster in Mayfield, Kentucky. When the tornado devastated a candle factory in the small city, hundreds of employees were there working at the time.
After the storm tore through the area, only debris was visible. The rescuers told journalists, “It would be a miracle if any survivors can be recovered from the wreckage.” But even so, they spared no effort striving to rescue survivors who may have been buried in the wreckage.
Volunteers dared not take long-distance travel in the middle of the winter lightly. Everyone gathered in the regional office early in the morning, and after prayers were said, they filled the trunk with the eco-blankets and scarves they’d prepared in advance. These cold-weather essentials were to be distributed to survivors during disaster assessment.
Volunteers arrived in the hard-hit area of Mayfield in the evening. Almost all the buildings were destroyed. The one building that did not collapse was the district courthouse. However, the roof of this three-story historic brick construction had crumbled.
Survivors placed mourning bouquets across the small city. The disaster assessment team stood in silent mourning alongside the fence with their hands folded, praying earnestly for those who had passed away.
Dystain Homess, a resident of Mayfield, described the disaster and the post-disaster situation as “madness,” expressing, “People here have lost their homes, jobs and even lives. I never thought this would happen in the place where I live. The appearance and history of this small city suddenly collapsed; nothing was left. We will rebuild a new Mayfield, the best Mayfield.”
The Light of Hope & Solidarity
Jack Kane, a local journalist who was working in the disaster area, was one of the first media staff to enter Mayfield. He described his feelings to the Tzu Chi disaster assessment team, saying, “The best way I can describe it is that it looks like a war zone. It looks like a movie. I really never thought that such a thing would happen in a community 20 minutes south of us. Some of the survivors didn’t have a change of clothes. They don’t have warm socks to wear, and they don’t have underwear. Necessities like food and water were precious. Many people have lost all their property in this catastrophe. This is the worst moment of their lives; the least I can do is to try to find out what I can do to help.”