'One step at time' predicted in OK

BY PJ HELLER | OKLAHOMA CITY | May 12, 1999


OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12, 1999) -- More than two dozen faith-based and

lay disaster recovery officials met here Tuesday to map long-term strategy

to assist victims of last week's killer tornadoes.

"We'll get this done together one step at a time," promised Larry Bishop, a

disaster resource consultant with Church World Service.

The nearly two-hour meeting, which attracted personnel ranging from the

Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross to Catholic

Charities and Southern Baptists, culminated in plans to launch several

interfaith efforts in the affected communities.

Meantime, as residents continued the massive cleanup effort, officials

warned that the recovery would be difficult, long and costly.

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher said damages from the May 3

twisters would likely run more than $1 billion, making it one of the mostly

costly disasters in U.S. history.

The storm -- which researchers now say had winds clocked at 318 miles

per hour, left at least 41 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than

10,000 homes and businesses.

Cleaning up the mountains of debris which residents and crews have piled by

the sides of roadways is expected to take anywhere from three to six

months. Residents in some small rural areas complained that they are being

ignored.

Rebuilding efforts are expected to take years. Complicating those efforts,

however, are a shortage of building materials and licensed contractors to

do the work, officials said.

"We're dealing with a very tight construction market as far as construction

firms, laborers," said Mayor Kirk Humphreys of Oklahoma City. "We're

dealing with a very tight market as far as materials, so I think it's going

to be a very difficult period for a number of months."

Gov. Frank Keating agreed, saying a "big question" was where the building

materials would come from to rebuild.

"We're working on that now so that we have all the major distributors and

suppliers and contractors realize that they need help in Oklahoma

immediately," Keating said. "We can't wait six months or a year to put up

drywall."

Scam artists were reported in the area trying to take advantage of people

affected by the storm. In some cases, they attempted to pass themselves off

as members of the Army Corps of Engineers and offered to help clean up or

remove debris from property -- for a price.

Local, state and federal officials issued warnings for residents to be

wary. They noted that the corps does not clean up private property and does

not solicit payment for its work. The Oklahoma Legislature, meantime,

passed and sent to the governor's desk a bill to prevent price gouging

after a disaster in materials and services as well a housing.

Disaster relief "town halls" were being held in affected communities,

giving residents a chance to come and meet with disaster recovery

officials. Keating's office also began holding weekly meetings with public

and private sector officials to ensure the recovery process was moving

ahead.

Local radio station KTOK hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night in an

Oklahoma City shopping mall, bringing together officials to answer

questions from the audience and from telephone callers.

Representatives from the Small Business Administration said the agency, as

of Tuesday night, had approved nearly $1 million in loans. Funding of the

first of those loans was expected Friday. More than 5,000 home and business

loan applications have been sent out.

FEMA officials said it had received more than 6,000 applications for aid.

It has already distributed some $623,000, which officials said was to get

disaster victims into temporary emergency housing.

They also urged affected residents to contact the agency as soon as

possible in order to get the process started. FEMA was maintaining a

telephone hotline from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (1-800-462-9029).

Volunteers, meantime, continued to assist in the recovery efforts. Many of

the agencies involved in relief efforts outlined at the Tuesday afternoon

meeting where they had been working and what they had been doing.

The United Methodist Committee of Relief reported that it had been

designated by the Oklahoma VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in

Disasters) to be responsible for coordinating volunteer efforts for all

volunteer agencies responding to the tornadoes.

"We intend to prioritize the requests for volunteers," an UMCOR spokesman

said. "We'll give priority placement to individuals who cannot do the work

themselves, the elderly or handicapped. We'll attempt to match the skills

of teams volunteering with the needs of the survivors."

UMCOR Disaster Response can be reached at 1-800-531-7808. Individuals

needing assistance or volunteer services or information can call

405-895-7430.

Norm Hein of Lutheran Disaster Response and a regional facilitator for

Church World Service, said he was heartened by the response at the meeting

and the

willingness of the groups to work together. The meeting was called by

Church World Service to explore putting together an interfaith effort.

Among those attending were representatives from five national

organizations. They included Tom Hazelwood of the UMCOR, Stan Hankins of

Presbyterian Disaster Response, Johnny Wray of Week of Compassion

(Disciples of Christ), Clarence Van Dyke of Christian Reformed World Relief

Committee and Bernice Karstensen of Lutheran Disaster Response.

"I think it will work. I really do," Hein said afterwards of the interfaith

effort. He noted that this was the first time this type of meeting was

held.

The widespread destruction caused by the tornadoes is expected to result

in several interfaith groups being formed to deal with specific areas.

Meantime, donations of food and clothing continued to pour into the state,

prompting some relief workers to call for a halt to those types of

donations. The Salvation Army has issued a call for more volunteers.

Posted May 12, 1999


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