Locals fear loss of interest in Southern tornadoes

Posted May 06, 2011, at 8:04 p.m.
Last modified May 06, 2011, at 8:21 p.m.

HARVEST, Ala. — The Rev. Michael Katschke is worried, but not about running out of the food, diapers and other supplies he hands out to tornado victims at the Crosswinds United Methodist Church in northern Alabama.

Katschke is worried about the rest of the country just moving on.

“They’re going to forget us just like they forgot about Japan,” he said.

The search for bodies is still going on in parts of the tornado-ravaged South, but the country’s worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina is already fading from the public consciousness, pushed aside first by the royal wedding and now by Osama bin Laden’s death.

That means donations and out-of-state volunteers will likely drop off as the region tries to recover after tornadoes killed at least 329 people and destroyed communities across seven states.

“It depends on the news cycle, but the reality is, you generally only have three or four days” to keep the attention of the broader public, said Mickey Caison, who oversees disaster relief efforts for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

“Typically, when the national media moves on, that window of opportunity closes.”

While national and local relief groups are still tallying donations, many say they expect to see a sharp drop-off in contributions for tornado relief after about the first week. That loss of momentum is rarely regained.

And it makes it harder to convince donors in six months or a year that the needs are still urgent.

“When people see the images on television, they’re literally seeing 32 inches of a disaster,” Red Cross national spokeswoman Laura Howe said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how long-lasting the effects of a disaster are.”

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