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OK emergency efforts buried in clothes, food

BY PJ HELLER | OKLAHOMA CITY | May 11, 1999

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 11, 1999) -- As faith-based leaders and others

involved in disaster recovery efforts were scheduled to meet here today to

discuss how to address the massive destruction caused by last week's swarm

of tornadoes, emergency officials were pleading with the public to stop

sending donations of food and clothing.

"We now have enough food and clothes," said one emergency official, "to

feed and clothe all of the disaster survivors for at least a year."

At the request of state and federal officials, Adventist Community Services

(ACS) opened a multi-agency warehouse to receive, sort, and distribute

donated relief supplies to other community agencies who will then

distribute them to tornado survivors as needed.

As the unneeded donations of food and clothing continued to arrive by the

truckload Monday, emergency officials were suggesting cash donations to

charities working on relief efforts. A toll-free number (1-800-996-6552)

has been established for information about appropriate donations needed in

Oklahoma.

"When people give cash donations, it allows agencies to purchase

much-needed items immediately," says Verdie Culpepper, veteran disaster

response coordinator and consultant for ACS. "This allows us to

buy locally, in turn putting money back into the local economy; it helps us

help the needy in a more timely fashion; and it helps us to be flexible,

since their needs change daily."

Gil Furst, director of Lutheran Disaster Response, said the purpose of the

Tuesday meeting is to provide communication links between different

organizations working in the tornado-ravaged areas. "I think coordination is

the key critical ingredient."

"I'm hoping that what will come of it...(is that) different faith groups

can come together and say,'What are the areas in which we can work together

more efficiently more effectively,'" he said.

Exactly what role, if any, such a group would play in recovery

efforts was expected to be one of the topics of the afternoon meeting.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, meantime, said the road to recovery would be a

long one.

"For the next number of months, when those in the national news media are

gone, when those who came to look and to help have gone onto other

challenges, we will be here together as an Oklahoma family," he said at a

special church service Sunday.

Even as he spoke, damage estimates continued to climb. Officials now say

that some 10,000 homes were destroyed by the tornadoes -- one of which

packed winds in excess of 260 miles per hour -- that struck the state

Monday, May 3. Property losses could reach $1 billion.

In many areas, "that I saw there will be no need for volunteers at all because

all the houses are blown away or blown apart," Furst said after touring the

area last week.

Five more counties were added to the Oklahoma disaster declaration at the

end of last week, including two that suffered severe flooding as a result

of the same line of storms. The declarations, make residents eligible to

receive disaster assistance. Sixteen counties in Oklahoma have now been

declared disaster areas.

The assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor

home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest

loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to

cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.

At least 41 people were killed in the storm. Another 10 people were killed

when the same storm system hit Kansas, Texas and Tennessee.

President Clinton, who toured the area on Saturday, pledged an additional

$12 million to provide about 3,500 temporary jobs for people out of work

due to the tornadoes damaging or destroying businesses.

Clinton also said he would ask Congress for an additional $372 million in

funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) disaster

relief budget.

Posted May 11, 1999


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