Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tornado Response in Tupelo

In April 2014, Tupelo, MS and several other areas in the southern US were stuck by severe tornadoes. FEMA Corps team Coast 5 responded to this disaster, and member Meghan Benzel shares her experience in today's post. 

On April, 28th, seven counties were devastated by EF-
tornadoes. Wednesday, April 30th, President Obama 
Destruction caused by a
tornado in Tupelo, MS
declared a State of Emergency for Mississippi. Five days later, Coast 5 was requested to assist FEMA in response to the disaster in Tupelo, MS. We provided assistance to survivors in Lee County 7 days a week for 6 weeks straight.

Not only were the people of
Tupelo incredibly welcoming to us, but they were the definition of southern hospitality. Some days the temperature reached the high 90’s and we would walk by a property that was completely destroyed. Out of the destruction, homeowners would hand us water, offer us shade and thank us for what we were doing. People who had lost everything still had the most welcoming smiles on their faces to offer.

Deploying to Tupelo was our first disaster as a FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Team. We did not know what to expect, what we would see, how people would respond to us and we weren’t fully confident in our abilities to use the skills that we were taught 2 months prior to being deployed. After the first 2-3 days of getting into the groove of DSA work, we were on a roll. Not only were we successfully registering survivors, we were creating relationships with the people of Tupelo.

On my first day as a Disaster Survivor Assistant, I met a woman who within the first hour of working- changed my life. In her early 80’s, this survivor was the most faithful woman I have ever met. She described living through the tornado and how she talked to God while the winds were howling and picking up pieces of her house. The survivor re-told the story of her husband holding on tight to her frail body as she cried, “God, if you’re ready, go ahead and take me!” Clinging on not only to her husband but to her faith, a huge tree slammed directly on top of the other half of her home. Thankfully no one in this home was hurt and the survivors will move forward in the recovery stage. I strongly believe that Tupelo changed my life for the better and left an impression on my heart for life. We were a piece of the puzzle of survivors’ lives. We may never know where we fit in that puzzle, but others will fill in the missing puzzle pieces in their lives with pieces of us- Coast 5.

FEMA Corps member Meghan Benzel assisting to
rescue a dog displaced by the tornado
Hearing the fear in survivor’s voices and seeing the frazzled state of a community reassured how I want to serve my country for the rest of my life. After FEMA Corps I plan on enlisting in the United States Army National Guard. I have served as an AmeriCorps member for 3 years and I am ready to move further in my service career. FEMA Corps has given me the opportunity to explore different aspects of service and allotted me the opportunity to meet with members of service from various deployment locations.

Want to learn more about the disaster services FEMA Corps and AmeriCorps NCCC members provide? Visit for more information and to apply.
Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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