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SEMA continues to assist tornado, flood victims after devastating year


Tornado damage and flooding made 2019 a devastating year for the Show-Me State.

Through it all, Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency continues to help people pick up the pieces.

On the night of May 22, SEMA director Ron Walker said workers at the agency closely watched the storm system move across the state. That system spawned a tornado that hit Eldon before continuing on to devastate part of Jefferson City.

“We thought at one point, after Golden City that night, maybe we're going to be in the clear," said Walker. "Then it hit Eldon, and then ... there's some doom in the room.”

The center quickly went into action by assisting emergency responders looking at damage in the dark.

“In that dark there's always going to be a certain amount of confusion. It's inevitable. It's never going to stabilize 'til you get some daylight and you get some resources on the ground," Walker said.

Get to know SEMA

SEMA has helped communities through 28 disasters in the past 13 years. Its center acts as a broker of sorts, connecting communities to necessities such as food and shelter.

SEMA's emergency human services branch helps coordinate Multi-Agency Resource Centers with volunteers, faith-based groups and nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, creating a one-stop shop for tornado and flood victims' needs. The centers are known as MARCs.

From May 30 to June 1, 326 families from Jefferson City and Eldon got assistance at MARCs. Five-hundred more families from across the state got help through the summer.

Walker is grateful for the team's efforts.

“The power of the group cannot be replicated by any government. They do things for compassion," he said. 

Before resources go out or MARCs are set up, SEMA activates under one of four levels. On May 22, the center reached a level two, or full activation. 

The highest activation, level one, weaves in federal support from FEMA.

FEMA aid

FEMA approved 82 counties and the City of St. Louis for public assistance after tornadoes and flooding hit the Show-Me-State this year. That's just a few less than the 89 counties approved during the Great Flood of 1993.

Above all, Walker believes every event begins and ends at the local level.

"Sometimes in the middle, they need us. Sometimes we need the federal government," Walker said. "But by and large we've worked really hard with our local government partners to develop capability at their level."

The morning after the tornado struck, Cole County and Jefferson City officials requested SEMA's SAVE coalition to do structural damage assessments. Volunteer engineers, architects and building inspectors make up the group.

As of Tuesday, 37 structures were listed unsafe in the county while 35 were unsafe in the capital city.

Recovery continues

"Disaster recovery goes on every day," Walker said. "We're still applying for a disaster case management grant to try to help our people ... and our [non-governmental organizations] work with our impacted families."

SEMA's efforts to help Missourians through some of their most difficult hours requires constant planning and preparation.

"We hope to be ready," Walker said. "We're working all the time. We're exercising. We're training ... Every day is a new day to work on it."

ABC 17 News took a closer look at where Jefferson City and Eldon stand in the tornado recovery process with a 30-minutes news special. You can watch the "ABC 17 News Special: Rebuilding Mid-Missouri" by clicking here.

Article Topic Follows: May 2019 tornado
cole county
jefferson city
miller county

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Sarah Bono

Sarah Bono is the news promotion manager at ABC 17 News. She previously directed newscasts and was the assistant news director.


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