Disaster response teams from churches are not only helping Oklahomans recover from recent winter storms, they are helping them feel better about human nature and about the church, said Leon Alexander of the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Response Team.
"Imagine that a big tree has fallen on your roof, and you are not able to get it down yourself and you can't afford to hire someone else do it. If I can remove the tree and put a blue tarp over the hole it made your roof so you won't get rained on, and not charge you a dime, you won't forget it," says Alexander.
"You can't imagine the outpouring of appreciation that these folks express to us. All we are doing is what we believe God is calling us to do."
Alexander is one of the five zone coordinators for the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Response Team that is helping residents recover from the strong Arctic cold front that blasted eastern Oklahoma Jan. 12, glazing roads, trees, power lines and everything else with sleet and freezing rain.
According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the storm contributed to at least 32 deaths; 19 died in motor vehicle accidents, eight died of hypothermia, two died of smoke inhalation, and three died due to falls.
In addition, the storm sent more than 3,900 people to hospitals for various injuries related to the storm, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reports. Utility companies say nearly 125,000 customers were without power, some for more than a week.
Alexander says most of the ice is gone and most of the power has been restored, but eastern Oklahoma still looks like it has been bombed. "Massive trees have been weighted down by ice, and now limbs are on houses, blocking driveways and strewn everywhere."
He says about 450 Southern Baptist men - equipped with chain saws and trained to use them - are helping residents all over eastern Oklahoma who are not physically able to clean up their property and can't afford to hire the work to be done. The volunteers are from Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, in addition to Oklahoma.
The Southern Baptists have brought two mobile kitchens into the area to provide food for response workers and residents of the area who are still in shelters.
Alexander, who is 79, heads up a mobile kitchen that has been at Muskogee and is now moving to three other locations. He says he and his 35 crew members, most of whom are also retirees, served 36,000 meals during the past two weeks. The other mobile kitchen, located at McAlester, may have served even more.
United Methodists, Mennonites and other faith groups are also removing debris and helping in various other ways.
American Red Cross has operated or supported shelters across the storm stricken area for residents without power. Several shelters have been in buildings provided by the Church of Christ, United Methodist, Southern Baptist, and other churches. Church World Service donated 1,000 blankets for use at shelters.
Brad Henry, Oklahoma's governor, says this is likely to be the most expensive disaster in the state's history. "We have been through a lot during recent weeks and are facing an even longer recovery period."
Alexander says Baptist disaster response teams will keep working through out the recovery period, which he thinks may be through February. Mary Beth Foye, director of Oklahoma United Methodist Disaster Response, says teams from United Methodist churches across the state are also committed to helping as long as they are needed.
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