A year after the powerful twisters devastated the area, Samaritan's Purse is helping people recover by rebuilding and repairing homes and installing and storm shelters
On May 20, 2013, deadly tornadoes battered much of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City suburbs were devastated by as EF-5 twister that not only flattened many homes, but also destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School, killing seven children.
Samaritan’s Purse immediately responded, sending staff, volunteers, equipment, and supplies to help homeowners. We established based in Moore and Shawnee. After completing 615 jobs in both locations with the help of the 64,211 hours of labor done by more than 4,000 volunteers, the initial disaster relief phase in Oklahoma finished in July.
But our work was not over. We launched a program to rebuild and repair homes for tornado victims most in need, and install storm shelters to provide safety and comfort the next time a storm strikes.“The city of Moore is changing every day,” said Brent Graybeal manager of rebuild programs within the U.S. for Samaritan’s Purse and also the program manager who served the city immediately after the tornado hit last year. “New homes are being started. There is redevelopment taking place. People are building back where their homes used to be. There are a lot of changes going on, and it’s a positive change.”
When Oklahoma rebuild program manager Michael Todd met with city officials earlier this year, he was blessed by the welcome he received.
“The city manager said to me, ‘If your rebuild is as good as your clean up, I’m excited to see what the results are going to be,’” Michael said. “They’ve been very excited. (It’s been) just a great response out there for the community being open for us.”
Staff moved to our base in Norman in December, and volunteers began work in February. So far, we have installed nine underground shelters for homes that had not previously had one, are nearing completion of our first home remodel. Construction is underway on two homes we’re building from the ground up.Never before have we offered in-ground storm shelters, but the need in Oklahoma was great. Many deaths could have been avoided if resources like these had been available a year ago to people who couldn’t afford to build one for themselves.
When thinking about Oklahoma and the work Samaritan’s Purse is doing there, Brent said he is reminded of Psalm 61, especially verses two and three:
When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy (Psalm 61:2-3, NKJV).
Overwhelmed does not even begin to describe the feeling of devastation many Oklahoma residents have felt over the past year, especially when the disaster first hit. But change is taking place, and more is on the way.The storm shelters we’re providing are more than a gift of safety, but also a gift of peace and a tangible representation of the love of Christ. As we continue breaking ground on more rebuild project a year later, Michael says the sense of peace is one of the most visible differences between last May and now.
“Everybody we’re helping didn’t have a storm shelter before, so they had to find somewhere to go,” he said. “In some cases, they thought about getting in their car and driving away from tornado. But now they can go a few feet from their home into these storm shelters, and that is peace of mind. That’s the big difference I’ve seen.”
Please continue to pray for Oklahoma as residents work to recover from the devastating tornadoes a year later, and please pray for our staff and volunteers as they demonstrate the love of Christ through their work.