As disaster relief groups organize to aid those affected by tornadoes in Kansas earlier this month, some volunteers have been told by the authorities that their help is not wanted. KBOO’s Scott Pham reports:
A group of volunteers with the organization Kansas Mutual Aid has been prevented from participating in relief efforts in the town of Greensburg
The town was ravaged by a tornado on May 4th.
Kansas Mutual Aid, based in Lawrence, is an anarchist collective involved in prisoner support, tenant organizing, and police oversight. Following the tornado, the group immediately began a disaster-relief effort.
Kansas Mutual Aid members worked side-by-side with volunteers from AmeriCorps, and the Mennonite Disaster Services in bringing supplies and rebuilding homes. They also started a small relief center on the land of a supportive local farmer.
But on Saturday, the group was forced out of town by local police and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, who have blocked off all entrances to the town and declared it a closed zone.
Hundreds of relief volunteers have been denied entry, and the United Way, which is overseeing the relief effort with FEMA, has told people not to come to Greensburg to help.
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, FEMA officials and large aid agencies also turned away many volunteers, despite the massive, desperate cry for help from the flooded city.
As in New Orleans after Katrina, the first response of the government in Kansas has been to secure the affected area using military force before providing any relief.
Greensburg is a small town of mostly white working people. In the tornado, 97% of the buildings in the town of 1500 were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Nearly every single resident was left homeless, jobless, and devastated. At least eleven people died in the storm, and hundreds of companion animals, livestock, and wild animals were killed as well.