Tzu Chi Midwest Mobilizes for Tornado Relief in Dawson Springs

Midwest  |  February 24, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers visit Dawson Springs to assess the needs of tornado survivors on February 11 and distribute emergency supplies, including blankets and masks. Photo/Yue Ma

Written by Pheel Wang, Meizhen Qian
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On December 10–11 of 2021, multiple states in the U.S. Midwest were impacted by dozens of tornadoes. Tzu Chi Midwest volunteers mobilized swiftly for emergency distributions, hoping to provide direct warmth and relief for survivors before Christmas. Two months after the disaster, Tzu Chi volunteers have continued to be committed to community residents in disaster-impacted areas. In February, volunteers returned to Kentucky to further understand the needs of survivors.

Assessment in Dawson Springs

Volunteers conduct assessments in Dawson Springs, and are heartbroken by the destruction they witnessed. Photo/Yue Ma

In addition to Mayfield, KY, and Bowling Green, KY, Tzu Chi volunteers also surveyed damage at Dawson Springs, a small hard-hit Kentucky city, for the first time.

The level of damage to houses in the disaster area makes them uninhabitable. Photo/Yue Ma

Tzu Chi volunteers were scheduled to visit Dawson Springs chiefly to investigate the disaster’s impact, and have a face-to-face meeting with Dawson Springs city officials and representatives of the American Red Cross to discuss preliminary relief. It was determined that on February 26–27, the local high school would be used to prepare for the distribution of cash cards and materials for 620 affected households in Dawson Springs.

In Dawson Springs, approximately 3/4 of the buildings were destroyed by the tornado. There were more than 600 houses in the city that had been completely destroyed or half-destroyed, and 1/3 of the city’s residents were low-income households.

When a disaster assessment team composed of six volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest region entered the city on February 11, they discovered heartbreaking devastation. There had been scarcely a single intact building within sight. The vicinity was filled with roofless and windowless evacuated homes, the entire block seeming desolate.

Striving for Relief

The boarded-up walls of damaged houses are spray-painted with messages indicating that all valuables are gone. Photo/Yue Ma
Volunteers gain a deeper understanding of the current situation from locals. Photo/Yue Ma

Boards had been nailed over the windows and doors of a home damaged by the storm. “Good Stuff Gone,” and “TVs, Identity Already Stolen,” were scrawled in black spray paint by the owner. With the community in the disaster area so severely impacted, and the police administrative system also affected, the homeowner had no alternative but to use this method to prevent the residence from being robbed even further.

Wherever volunteers caught sight of local residents, they rushed to offer support. From survivors, they learned that many of the affected families were temporarily living in hotels or the homes of relatives and friends. “All the property in the house has been ruined, and we don’t even know when the government’s emergency subsidies will be issued,” one resident poignantly expressed. “A few neighbors with better economic conditions have already started to prepare for reconstruction, but the vast majority of the affected households are still facing difficulties in getting food and accommodation on a daily basis, let alone think about future reconstruction.”

Volunteers meet with Debbie Meads (second from right), an American Red Cross representative. Photo/Yue Ma
Volunteers convey Master Cheng Yen’s sincere regards to Dawson Springs Mayor Chris Smiley (right). Photo/Yue Ma

When she came to the city hall for the consultation meeting, Debbie Meads, the liaison representative of the American Red Cross, cordially greeted Tzu Chi Midwest Region CEO, Chong Hsieh, and additional Tzu Chi volunteers. Debbie had met Tzu Chi volunteers in emergency relief events before, and knew the signature blue and white uniforms well. The mayor of Dawson Springs, Chris Smiley, thanked Tzu Chi volunteers for coming to the city and expressed the city government’s wholehearted support for Tzu Chi’s distribution work.

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