SBTC DR focused on Cleburne after May 16 tornado

Even as a massive tornado ravaged Moore, Okla., on May 20, efforts to clean up the damage caused by the EF-3 and EF-4 tornadoes that ripped through the towns of Granbury, Cleburne and Ennis on May 15 were continuing this week.

SBTC disaster relief workers and chaplains were deployed to the area 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth on May 16. At Granbury, SBTC disaster relief director Jim Richardson and Texas Baptist Men (TBM) officials agreed that the SBTC would focus relief efforts in Cleburne while the TBM would handle Granbury.

SBTC DR set up headquarters in Stonelake Baptist Church. Relief efforts had been coordinated with the city of Cleburne, which set up its command center at the local elementary school.

While Cleburne suffered no fatalities, at least 600 homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said in a May 16 news conference.

One of the homes damaged belonged to Brian McClure, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cleburne, where SBTC DR workers were being housed.

McClure, his wife Carleigh, and their five children, ages seven months to nine years, were home during the storm. McClure recalled hearing tornado sirens going off twice. “We gathered into the interior closet and stayed there,” McClure said. “You could hear the hail and the debris: shingles, wood particles. There was a whole lot of noise.”

The McClures live in a neighborhood in the southwestern part of Cleburne, the area hardest hit by the tornadoes.

McClure, experienced in roofing, covered his home’s roof with a tarp. Shingles were gone and the wood decking visible. “But four homes down, the tornado ripped off shingles, tar paper and decking. You could see clear into the rooms,” said McClure, who accompanied SBTC chaplains and DR workers to damaged areas over the weekend.

One of the homes severely damaged belonged to Friendship Baptist Church member Inez Kerby, who was out of town at the time of the storm. SBTC workers cleared debris from Kerby’s yard and porch; chainsaw teams cut up and removed a tree which had fallen between Kerby’s home and that of a neighbor.

Kerby’s neighbor was thankful for the assistance, said McClure, who added, “We had a chance to pray with her and minister to her.” The neighbor’s home had lost its roof.  “You could look up through the ceiling into the sky, were it not for the blue tarp that covered everything,” McClure said.

SBTC Disaster Relief deployed more than 20 trained volunteers, including shower unit operators, operations assessment teams, roofing teams, chainsaw teams and chaplains to the Cleburne area, said Jim Richardson, SBTC DR director. The chaplains and chainsaw teams had seen the most action.

“In Cleburne, most of the damage was done to trees and roofs. Much of the work we’ve been doing is chainsaw work,” said Darryl Cason, SBTC “white hat” or incident commander. “Just about every home I came across was livable except they had no electricity,” Cason said.

Electricity was restored to the McClure home May 17.

SBTC DR chaplain Leo Furrh of Denison was among the first to arrive in Cleburne. “When we first got here, there was a lot of confusion. All of a sudden, people find they have a tree sticking out their back door or back window. We have seen a lot of damage.”

Chainsaws make welcome noise, evidently.

“We are missionaries like any others,” said Furrh of the SBTC DR chaplains and volunteers. “Some have been brought to the Lord; others have been encouraged in the Lord. This experience has strengthened their faith,” said Furrh of the contacts made by SBTC chaplains and workers.

“Most contacts have been made in the neighborhoods,” Furrh added. “We pray with people and do whatever we can to assist them.”

Sometimes encounters yield unexpected opportunities.

Furrh recalled one such offer of assistance to a woman whose home had been damaged. “She started filling out our forms [SBTC DR work orders] and then stopped. She said, ‘Wait a minute. Y’all might not want to do this for me.’”

“Why not?” Furrh asked.

“I’m not a Baptist,” the woman replied.

“That doesn’t make any difference,” he said.

“I’m a Jehovah’s Witness,” said the woman.

“OK, you talk, I’ll talk,” replied Furrh. “We will put the tarp on your roof and get the broken limbs out of your trees. We will take them out to the curb. Then we can sit down, and for every minute you get to talk, I get to talk. We did just that,” said Furrh, who noted that he is retired and that his” full time occupation is SBTC disaster relief.”

SBTC DR workers were expected to remain in the Cleburne area through May 23 , said Julian Moreno, an SBTC blue hat.

“The DR folks come in and do basically what we also get to see neighbors do,” McClure said. “They come in and say, ‘Hey, is there something I can help you with?’ And then they do it. It’s the heart of DR, and it’s part and parcel of Cleburne, too.”

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