After the devastation of the EF-4 tornado May 28, volunteers have been working to salvage houses and help homeowners. The volunteer effort has spread across south Lawrence, with over 150 volunteers turning out on both Saturday and Sunday.
“Some of these houses are just uninhabitable anymore, just absolutely destroyed,” said Joel Neises, a volunteer who worked over the weekend.
The work they do involves assisting homeowners with salvaging important items from their homes and separating debris from the valuables. Some groups cut down bludgeoned trees, while others moved debris into piles and worked with homeowners.
“Whatever the homeowners need is what the volunteers are doing,” said the Rev. Hollie Tapley, who has been managing registration of volunteers as the coordinator of Great Plains Disaster Response.
Breckin Brown, another volunteer, and Neises worked on Saturday in a cul-de-sac that was in the path of the tornado. Despite the devastation, Brown and Neises described a general feeling of hope as they moved from house to house.
“There were definitely some tearful moments, just in the fact that it was overwhelming,” Brown said. “But some of them had bought pizza and Gatorade and said ‘Come take a break, you’re so helpful.’ It was a good environment.”
Tapley's church — First United Methodist Church on the west side of Lawrence — has hosted volunteer registration with Tapley and Andrew Foster, the University’s Public Safety Emergency Manager, running the show.
“We’ve been fortunate as far as campus goes that there has been no impact directly to the campus,” Foster said. “That doesn’t mean that the community wasn’t impacted as a number of the residents outside are affiliated with KU in some way.”
Volunteers are still urged to help out when they can, but according to Tapley, donations of water and food to the church are not needed at this time.
For those who want to volunteer, Tapley and Foster recommend wearing jeans; bringing water, gloves and snacks; as well as preparing to work in very hot weather.