Disaster relief continues fruitful ministry in Oklahoma

MOORE, Okla.—SBTC disaster relief workers continued efforts in Oklahoma over the Memorial Day weekend with SBTC skid steer teams helping ease debris removal in Moore, where an EF-5 tornado destroyed hundreds of homes along a wide swath and claimed 24 lives.

The SBTC volunteers have worked in the area since May 23 and have reported dozens of professions of faith resulting from the ministry there.

Also, an SBTC chainsaw team assisted in clean up in Shawnee, Okla., about 40 minutes east of Oklahoma City, where tornadoes caused damage.

Recalling last week’s work in Moore, Jim Howard, an SBTC DR volunteer and pastor of Westside Baptist of Atlanta, Texas, described overwhelming damage.

“We saw roofs gone, windows blown out, insulation and wood pieces everywhere, even metal wrapped around stuff,” said Howard of the neighborhood deemed “Zone 8,” an area “just outside the main wind force.”

There was still much work to do, even in a neighborhood on the edge of disaster, Howard said.

“We spent the day with a man and his son. We put a tarp on his roof and talked to him, shared with him and seemed to encourage him a lot,” Howard relayed. “He had a lot of hope, as do most of the people up here. We prayed with him and his son. They were ready to pray.”

The view from the top of the man’s roof afforded Howard an encouraging sight as he watched a group of young families gather to remove debris from a neighborhood children’s playground.

“They got out there and got busy cleaning it up and replacing the sawdust. It was healthy for them to do that,” said Howard, who noted other instances of a close-knit community banding together yet grateful for the outside help. “Everyone is so appreciative,” Howard added. “These [DR] men who come up here and do this for nothing, who drive so far and work so hard, will remind folks that there is a God and that they are loved.”

Howard, typical of DR workers, volunteers his time. “This is how I spend my vacation. I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I do disaster relief.”

SBTC DR workers were staying at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Howard himself expected to be in Oklahoma for two weeks.

Doug Scott, DR skid steer team leader and a member of Jim Howard’s church in Atlanta, described helping Moore resident Jim McBride remove debris from his ruined garage on May 24. McBride is an Oklahoma DR volunteer with whom Scott and others had worked previously at other disasters.

“His house was destroyed. Part of it is still standing, but they will have to bring in a bulldozer to raze it,” Scott said. It was a blessing to be able to help him, he said.

Skid steers, with grappling buckets attached, enable operators to carry “a pretty good load,” Scott explained.

On Saturday, the efforts of one skid steer team at a home SW 11th Street in Moore yielded news of a miraculous story, said DR volunteer Monte Furrh.

“We were cleaning up with a bobcat [skid steer] at a two-story house that had fallen on three people—an elderly couple and their son,” Furrh recalled. “The people were there talking to us [during debris removal]. It had taken rescuers three hours to dig them all out [after the tornado].”

The family had been inside the home when the storm struck.

“They said they heard the warning and tried to get to the outside tornado shelter. They didn’t even get to the door of their home when the tornado hit,” Furrh explained.

The woman, 81, recalled tapping on something metallic to try to signal rescuers. It may have been the home’s washer and dryer that apparently prevented debris from crushing her, Furrh said. 

The son said a metal chair was what saved him as a staircase and other debris fell, Furrh added.

“The home was a two story to start with. It was demolished. There was a pickup truck sitting upside down in it [the debris]. The truck was blown down the street about a block and a half. We found a lawnmower; we found a tire, a wheel, a hub from the pickup which had come off in flight,” Furrh noted. 

The family’s home was just down the street from the Plaza Towers Elementary School where seven students died when the tornado hit, said SBTC DR volunteer Mary Sapp of Mabank. Seven people from SW 11th Street also died, Sapp said.

“It is like a war zone over there. It is real bad. It is kind of hard to wrap your mind around it. You see it on TV, but till you are right there … it tears your heart out,” Furrh observed.

The elderly couple said they were believers. “They said they did a lot of praying while they were buried in the house,” Furrh said.

DR workers were able to find the couple’s safe, intact, with all their insurance papers in it. They also found a coat with a checkbook in it that the man hoped to recover. “The safe was underneath the rubble.  We cleared about 20 feet of rubble. We even found his wife’s glasses,” Furrh said.

A group from Joplin, Mo., including a retired teacher who had taught at Plaza Towers Elementary, brought equipment needed to fix flat tires, a constant problem for DR and other vehicles, given the debris, said Sapp, who made use of the free tire repair services.

Many volunteers in the first wave of SBTC help left an advanced DR training session at Garrison to deploy directly to Oklahoma, said Gordon Knight, SBTC DR chaplain director.

Chaplains have been deployed with all teams, Knight said.

People have slowly started returning to the most severely damaged areas of Moore. “[This DR] is a little different,” said Bob Sapp, SBTC DR chaplain deployed to Moore. “All the homes were destroyed. They had no reason to be back out there. They came to salvage whatever we could uncover.”

“We prayed with everybody,” Bob Sapp said. “If we could get to them, we prayed with them.”

Sapp knew of at least one couple that had been led to the Lord by SBTC chaplains. As of Tuesday, DR teams had led five people to Christ during the second week of ministry there, said Richardson, the SBTC DR director.

The words of a police officer to Mary Sapp described the attitude of many Moore residents: “We are a faith-based community, not a government-based community.”

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