Samaritan's Purse helped hundreds of homeowners after devastating tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City area
Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers concluded disaster relief work in the Oklahoma City area this week. The teams of workers brought hope to people reeling from a succession of tornadoes, helping more than 600 homeowners with clearing debris, cutting trees, and tarping roofs.
During the two rounds of tornadoes, 32 people lost their lives in the region and hundreds more suffered injuries. Flash flooding claimed more lives and created new problems for people still addled from the first disaster.
Samaritan’s Purse responded within 24 hours to the deadly storms by sending two Disaster Relief Units from our North Carolina headquarters, which arrived in Oklahoma in the early morning of May 22.
Staff and volunteers worked out of our bases at Emmaus Baptist Church in Moore and Family of Faith Church in Shawnee. They assisted by cleaning up debris, salvaging personal belongings, cutting up and removing downed trees, and tarping damaged roofs. The operation site in Shawnee finished cleanup on June 21 after completing 163 work orders. Assistance in the Moore community concluded on July 11 after 452 homeowners received help.
“We [were] much more effective with Samaritan’s Purse here than what we could do on our own,” said Mike Booth, pastor at Emmaus Baptist. “This was just a better way for us to be able to help our community.”
The monster storm in Moore leveled homes, businesses, and schools. Entire neighborhoods are in ruins, with houses reduced to debris piles. In Shawnee, trailer parks were destroyed with pieces of metal from one trailer being wrapped around other trailers and trees.
“It looks like an atomic bomb went off,” said Jim Ault, a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer and member of our site management team. “Seeing the path of destruction and the intensity of this wedge move through an area of such modern construction, concrete buildings, taking them down to the ground, is quieting.”
More than 4,000 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers responded to the need in the area. Working alongside Rapid Response chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, our teams let people in the disaster area know that God hasn’t forgotten them.
“You’re all like manna from heaven,” said Shirley Pressley, a 78-year-old homeowner whose home was damaged by the tornado. “All of a sudden there you are. You can’t tell me that God hasn’t had a hand in all of this.”
The presence of our team opened doors to important conversations with those impacted. One man in Moore angrily told a group of volunteers that no one would have come to help if it had not been for the death of the young children. A volunteer named Richard responded that he was the man’s neighbor and wanted to be of assistance.
When the man asked Richard where he lived, Richard said he was from Ohio. The local man looked startled, so Richard explained that he was following the Bible in loving his neighbor, even if that neighbor lived 1,000 miles away.
On one of the team’s last days working in Moore, a couple of elderly homeowners, Tom and Gracie, thanked the volunteers for their work. Tom talked about how he knew the Bible story of the Good Samaritan well, but he never thought he would be the one beaten and lying on the side of the road.
Then the tornado came, and he found himself in just that position. Tom said real Samaritans—the teams of volunteers—came and picked him up. He and his wife Gracie kept telling the workers how thankful they were for the blessing they had received.
In the weeks following the tornadoes, volunteers focused on their mission—even when more severe weather threatened their safety. Our crews had just completed a day’s work on May 31 when storms rolled in. After the power went out throughout Moore, many community members came to Emmaus Baptist Church to seek shelter.
“You call the church a lighthouse,” Pastor Booth said. “Even in the dark, people came to the lighthouse. Even though there was no electricity, people came to the lighthouse.”
In nearby Shawnee, staff and volunteers also evacuated and joined community members in taking shelter underground as the dangerous storms approached.
“We immediately turned to the One we put all of our trust in, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” said Tony McNeil, program manager in Shawnee. “We prayed for safety. We turned our thoughts to those out in the storm, in the areas where we are working where they’ve lost everything and they are sleeping in tents and have no place to go.”
Volunteers resumed working the next day, even with the potential of serious weather still in the forecast. They did it to let the storm victims know that God cares and for the opportunity to tell them about Jesus.
“If there was hopelessness yesterday, there’s even more hopelessness today,” said Alice Smith, a volunteer from Michigan. “There’s no end to the storms of life; the storms are going to come. Do you want to go through the storms alone, or do you want to go through the storms with Christ?”
The massive twister in Moore was rated EF-5, the same as the tornado that killed 158 in Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011 — almost two years ago to the day. Samaritan’s Purse responded to that storm also and will wrap up rebuilding homes in Joplin on July 19, 2013.
Samaritan’s Purse also responded when Moore was hit by a tornado in 1999. That storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth’s surface, 302 mph, and killed 36 people.
“When a storm devastates a community, one of the most important ways Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers help is finding and salvaging the personal belongings of victims who have already lost so much,” said Brent Graybeal, program manager for the response in Moore. “A homeowner is grateful when you patch a hole in his or her roof, but it’s usually nothing in comparison to finding a grandmother’s wedding ring or an irreplaceable family photo album. We know that by helping people pick up these pieces, it provides comfort and a sense of hope for the long road ahead of them. It’s allowing the homeowners to start rebuilding their lives both physically and spiritually.”
Please continue to pray for the people affected by the storms. Pray that storm victims who saw the love of Christ as a result of our work will continue to remember that love as they begin the process of recovery.