Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Not The Start I Expected......

2011 has started, well, different than I expected.

I went to bed on Thursday, Dec. 30, really anticipating a quiet, simple day. My goal in life was to finish my Christmas cards (yes, I was late), watch a movie, and just hang out at home - and be the "back up" adult for the New Year's Eve youth lock-in.

 Let's just say, that my quiet morning became nothing but quiet in a short time.

I'll admit, after covering tornadoes and watching their destructive path, let's just say, I tend to "under-react" to storms.

I used to worry and fret, watching the sky with fear - wondering if the next time the siren sounded, my house would go away.

I've taken shelter in church basements (when I lived in the upstairs apartment, without access to a basement), and I've sat cowering in the hallway with my camera bag slung over my shoulder - because of course, the girl who takes pictures at her own wreck (um that's a long story) would need to be ready to snap pics for the paper immediately after the wind died down.

But after covering two tornadoes: a wretched December storm and a wild May blast, I'll be honest - I don't do anything stupid, but like I said, I tend to under-react.

So when I woke up, from a deep dream-filled sleep, it took a few moments for the noise to register as tornado sirens. I know it sounds crazy, but I immediately jumped online to see if it was really a tornado siren (it always sound "faint" at my apartment)

I even, jokingly posted on Facebook:

"Just woke up from a lovely dream to hear tornado sirens in Siloam. Happy New Years eve I guess. Yes mom I ducked, covered AND Facebooked."
A few minutes later I posted (still kind of in my sleep-induced grogginess: "Is laughing at all of the Siloam folks who also facebooked when they were woken up by the tornado sirens. Are we sure it's Dec 31? Or did I wake up in May. Oh yeah remembering the Dec tornado I covered for paper that hit near Mt Vernon mo. I guess it's possible.:

I never dreamed that just down the road, the lives of people I knew were changing in an instant.

A friend's sister and brother-in-law lost their business (a dairy), a family member and well, everything.

Another friend's farm was ok, but they were dealing with the loss of a friend and being able to step in to help a neighbor in need.

Still other friends, themselves ok, jumped in to minister to people in need - turning their small church into a community-resource hub.

If I had known then, what I know now, I would have never rolled back over and gone back to sleep. It took a call from my cousin, and later, a friend, to wake me up enough to realize that 2010 wouldn't end quietly.

By 8:30 a.m., I was awake enough, to respond to the crisis - this time, not as a journalist, but instead, part of a ministry team.

Because I am the "web guru" (a.k.a. the person with the password) for the Northwest Arkansas (UMC) District Website, and because our district's disaster coordinator (a.k.a. Denni Palmer) was beginning to mobilize, I knew we needed to put a communication's plan into motion.

Because a church - Cincinnati United Methodist Church - was directly involved in the situation, I decided to create a post on the district website that could hold all of the updates and eliminate the need for multiple e-mails -

Since our first update at 8:30 a.m. on that first day, we've updated the website numerous times. We know that people are reading the updates. Denni's talked to lots of people from across the country who said they got their first information from the site - a heavy responsibility. 

Much of the updates have centered around what's happening at the church - and the subsequent relief efforts which are taking place through it's determined members.

I wish I could do more. I wish I could tell all of the stories of the people who are doing amazing things. Of the people who have awesome stories of hope, in the midst of devastation. I wish I could help memorialize the stories of those who lost their lives because of the brief, but powerful storm.

This is the first storm I've covered in the shadow of Facebook. It's amazing the power statuses have in helping to spread the word about needs. It's also heartbreaking to watch the statuses be used to spread misinformation.

Sometimes it seems as if the misinformation spreads faster than the truth. (For the record the church in Cincinnati DOES NOT need clothing donations - no matter what it says on Facebook or through a forwarded e-mail message.)

Having a "refrigerator door" type page, on the district website, has hopefully provided a positive way to get the word out, to lots of people, in a short amount of time.

I'm still processing everything that happened this past weekend - and my minuscule part in the bigger picture. I'm also praying for those impacted by the storm - especially for the families that lost everything.

I still wish I could do more. But for now, I'm doing my part by getting out accurate information.

I hope it's enough.

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