Harveyville seeks to rebuild after tornado

by Jessica Langdon

HARVEYVILLE — Lives changed in minutes for the people of Harveyville.

“What they had a few days ago, they no longer have,” said Jami Reever, executive director of the United Way of the Flint Hills. “I met a family today who lost a loved one in this tornado, and that has left me with a heavy heart.”

Reever, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Emporia, arrived in Harveyville soon after the storm. She could see all around her the destruction the EF2 tornado left in its wake on Feb. 28.

“To see these houses that have just been completely destroyed is overwhelming,” said Reever.

She was there to try to help restore a sense of normalcy to the people who call the city of a few hundred home.

An outpouring of support, including hundreds of volunteers, followed the tornado.

Harveyville had help from many areas, including some that were no stranger to the devastation a tornado can wreak.

Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia — which isn’t far from Reading, where a violent tornado struck on May 22, 2011 — took up a collection the weekend of March 3-4 to help the Harveyville community.

Sacred Heart pastor Father Rich Warsnak acknowledged things can be a mess in the beginning, but assured the people of Harveyville they’re not going through this alone.

“There’s a lot of people thinking about them and praying for them and wanting to help,” said Father Warsnak.

He hoped the residents of Harveyville, which has about the same population as Reading, will carry comfort from that support in their hearts and minds as they start to heal.

As Reever worked in Harveyville, she met people who were basically shellshocked. The tornado came with little warning and was gone in a matter of minutes.

But as Reever talked, she was walking by the home of 53-year-old Richard Slade and his wife. The tornado had blown it right off its foundation that night, causing injuries that claimed Slade’s life.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback visited Harveyville on March 1, where he talked with Slade’s family and others affected by the tornado.

Talk, said Reever, is very important to the recovery process. She and other volunteers spend a lot of their time doing just that with the people they meet. It’s important, and often therapeutic, for people to tell their stories.

“We put the forms down and we sit down on the front porch and we talk,” she said.

From her experience with Reading, she knows the people of Harveyville will have difficult months ahead of them.

People will need strength as they move ahead.

And the needs won’t go away after the initial cleanup; they go on for a long time.

“Sometimes people don’t know they’ve lost something until three months after a disaster,” said Reever. They might open a drawer and only then realize their scissors are gone, she said.

“And I hope we don’t forget about these people and what they might need down the road,” she added.

Father Warsnak didn’t know how much the collection for Harveyville would net, but he planned to send the funds to Father Anthony Oullette, who is the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Osage City and St. Patrick Parish in Scranton. Scranton isn’t far from Harveyville, and the parish serves parishioners from the town.

“Whatever funds we raise, we’ll give it over to Father Anthony, and he can assist folks who need it there in Harveyville,” said Father Warsnak.

He recalled the outpouring of generosity from parishes throughout the archdiocese when Reading was struck.

In Reading’s case, a long-term committee was set up to help the community, which included representatives of Sacred Heart, the United Methodist Church, the United Way and others.

Many of the homes hit in Reading had been paid off long ago, and the owners didn’t have insurance. The funds helped people who might have had no other way to pay for something as simple as a mattress.

Because Sacred Heart witnessed such generosity from across the archdiocese when the call came to assist Reading, now it is extending what help it can to the people of Harveyville.

“We have an opportunity to help this community,” Father Warsnak said.

And he assured the residents of Harveyville that, although it takes time, things do get better.

“Have the resolve to rebuild what needs rebuilding,” he said.

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