In Oklahoma, springtime signifies the time of year for many uplifting events, such as Easter Sunday and graduation ceremonies for students. This time of year also is renowned for bringing dangerous storms and tornadoes.
The spring of 2012 has proven no different. On Friday, April 13, a powerful storm containing a tornado that left damage in its wake ripped through portions of Norman. On the following day, a devastating storm hit the town of Woodward, where six people, including children, lost their lives.
In each case, trained Oklahoma Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers were quick to respond. By Saturday afternoon, disaster relief teams had “assessed 15 chainsaw jobs, and teams were on the ground assisting homeowners,” said Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
By Sunday, Porter was able to report that “Oklahoma chainsaw teams had completed 15 jobs on Saturday, and expect to complete all of their recovery work in Norman on Monday.”
Of the hundreds of tornado sightings reported on Sat., April 14, the deadliest hit Woodward.
According to Porter, Oklahoma Baptists were there to help right away.
“The Cherokee Strip Association feeding unit was set up to prepare meals on Sunday,” said Porter, adding that the unit stayed in operation through April 23. “Meanwhile, debris removal assessors in Woodward reported 68 houses, 20 mobile homes and 13 businesses had been destroyed. Chainsaw teams went to work quickly, and within a few days, had completed their work.”
A disaster relief shower trailer from Nicoma Park, First also responded and remained in operation in Woodward through April 23, Porter reported.
The American Red Cross, with which BGCO disaster relief teams work, estimated that more than 600 homes were affected by tornadoes and storms April 13-14 in Canadian, Cleveland, Jackson and Woodward counties. More than 100 of those homes were either destroyed or had major damage.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who declared a state of emergency due to the storms, visited Woodward over the weekend. “
The Governor saw first-hand the devastation,” said Porter. “But she also saw that Oklahomans in the faith community pulled together to assist in a great way.”
Among those who assisted was John Elam, director of missions for Northwest Association. Elam led members of Woodward, First in an organized effort to help clear debris and help residents. The church held some Sunday morning activities, then spent the remainder of the day doing disaster relief work.
Numerous other churches, including Woodward, Lincoln Ave., also pitched in to help. Baptist leaders, such as Todd White, who serves as a disaster relief chaplain, were key to the effort, according to Porter.
“Todd is well known in the community, and was a real help. Nearly every household we drove by (on Sunday) had a group of people in the yard working to help with clean up,” he said.
White said he spent all night Sunday at the hospital ministering to victims and their families.
“John Elam and Jason Dirks, pastor of Lincoln Ave. church, also served as chaplains ministering to those in need,” he said, adding that their efforts bolstered those of the seven Woodward Police Dept. chaplains on duty.
“The benefit of the way we do disaster relief is that it is a volunteer, citizen-based effort,” said Porter. “The government emergency responders are glad for our presence, because we often can go where federal regulations will not allow them to go. It gives us a great deal of freedom.”
“In Oklahoma and surrounding states, it is not a matter of if storms and natural disasters will come. It is a matter of when,” said Porter. “The key is to have the right plan and people in place for when moments like these arise.
“In the end, tragic times like these afford us the opportunity to offer real, tangible help and share our faith with those in a crisis.”
White said April 18 that the City of Woodward’s maintenance crews had worked hard to remove debris left behind by the tornado.
“Just about all of it will probably be gone by today,” he marveled.”