Unforeseen Tornado Rips through Kentwood, 2-1-1 Helps Pick-up the Pieces

“All disasters start locally and end locally,” says James Warfield, director of emergency disaster for the Salvation Army in western Michigan and northern Indiana. Warfield praises the 2-1-1 team at Heart of West Michigan United Way for serving as a unique and essential “bridge” between community agencies and the public. 

In response to a tornado that hit Kentwood last July, United Way’s 2-1-1 immediately started a hotline that collected the locations of damage and information about services available to the tornado’s victims. The violent winds, typically uncommon for the region, cut a six-mile path through the area -- leaving 10,000 residents without power and hundreds of damaged homes.

2-1-1 callers needed communication on the scope of the tornado and information on Red Cross shelters and Salvation Army support; but, the most common request was for trash removal. The volume of debris, upturned trees and limbs left in the storm’s aftermath was unprecedented.

Out of an estimated 300 damaged homes, 85 were destroyed by the tornado. Many more homes needed structural repairs, in particular, roof repairs. 2-1-1 Program Manager Sherri Vainavicz says the tornado struck a number of neighborhoods where homeowners insurance would help cover rebuilding and repairs, but tenants of an apartment complex that houses refugee families in Kentwood would need more assistance. She says most renters don’t think about buying insurance to cover damage or theft until it is too late, and then, they need help picking-up the pieces.

“It really does help to have relationships set up with the various agencies that respond in a community,” Vainavicz adds. “And 2-1-1 plays a vital role with that recovery.” Heart of West Michigan United Way 2-1-1 will continue be the link between need and help in the future as well, wherever life takes you. With 2-1-1’s involvement, a new regional chapter of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is forming in Kent County.