Size of OK disaster begins to sink-in

BY PJ HELLER | OKLAHOMA CITY | May 7, 1999


OKLAHOMA CITY (May 7, 1999) -- Residents continued to sift through

what little was left of their homes and possessions Thursday as the death

toll from the killer

tornadoes which hit the state climbed to 43.

For some residents, especially in hard-hit Moore, where nearly half of the

15,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged, the storm was just the

latest in a series of devastating events.

Three weeks ago, a family of four living in the suburb had their house burn

down.

They moved into an apartment building in town, only to see it demolished by

the tornado.

"They weren't in the apartment at the time," noted Pastor Scott Bulmer of the

Oakcrest Church of Christ. "But they did lose their two primary residences

within a

three week period."

Another couple from Moore had sold their home and were living in the apartment

building while they were constructing a new house. The new residence, which

was almost

completed, was leveled by the storm as was their apartment, Bulmer

reported.

And another couple, also from Moore, had just completed repairing their house

which was damaged by a tornado in October. The storm Monday extensively

damaged their

house again. It may be a total loss this time.

Those and other stories continued to emerge from the scene as residents were

allowed to go back to their homes to see what was left. In many cases,

there wasn't much

to go back to.

Relief supplies, meantime, continued to pour into the state as faith-based and

charitable organizations mounted massive relief efforts to aid the

thousands of people

whose homes were destroyed by the twisters. An estimated 3,000 homes and

businesses

were leveled by the storm, which packed winds in excess of 260 miles per

hour, according to meteorologists. Damage estimates have ranged up to $1

billion.

Bulmer reported that a tractor-trailer truck filled with relief supplies

arrived

Thursday from a member church in Little Rock, Ark. Another 18-wheeler from a

member church in Nashville was expected to arrive on Saturday, he said.

The Oakcrest church, located on the far west side of Oklahoma City, has been

transformed into a supply facility. A first-aid station was also set up there.

"We look just like an enormous warehouse right now," Bulmer said. "We won't

even be able to have regular services this Sunday because of all the stuff

that was

brought in."

One of his pleas -- echoed by other relief agencies -- was for people to stop

donating

clothing.

"You can't see the pews for the clothes," Bulmer said. "Clothes are just

everywhere. We have 40 to 50 people just sorting clothes all the time.

"We're not turning anybody away (with clothing donations) because we don't

want to be ungrateful," he noted. "But right now I think we have more

clothes than J.C.

Penney."

Items needed included non-perishable foods, baby diapers, non-electric can

openers, water, snack foods, gloves, shovels and tools and hygiene items

including soap

and shampoo, according to various relief workers. Relief groups also urged

people to

contribute money.

After devastating Oklahoma and Kansas, the storms moved eastward, lashing

Tennessee on Wednesday night, where four people were killed and at least 50

were

injured. Shelters were set up by the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Power was

knocked out to 60,000 people from Memphis to Nashville. Most of the power was

restored Thursday.

Storms also hit North Carolina and Georgia. In South Carolina on Thursday,

high

winds ripped the roofs off buildings. Trees and power lines were reported

down in Ohio.

Church World Service (CWS) issued an appeal for $250,000 from its member

denominations in order to respond to the spring storms. That amount

includes $25,000

in seed money for faith-based community organizations and $5,000 for

interfaith

development funds in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Development of an interfaith response to address long-term unmet needs in the

affected areas is taking shape in Oklahoma. CWS officials said they

expected at least

three interfaiths would be created. A meeting to discuss interfaith

activity was scheduled

for Tuesday in Oklahoma City. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has also

offered to

provide interfaith development assistance in Oklahoma.

While not addressing the issue of an interfaith directly, Oklahoma Bishop

Bruce

Blake said that helping people who do not receive sufficient assistance

from federal, state

and other voluntary organizations would be a long-term effort.

"The task before us will not be completed in 30 days," Blake told clergy

and lay

people at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. "Disaster

survivors will

still be needing our help two years from now, long after the tornado is old

news and other

agencies have moved on."

One of the more unusual relief efforts launched in the wake of the storms came

from the American Humane Association (AHA).

Trained rescuers from the AHA have set up a command center in Oklahoma

City in an

80-foot disaster relief vehicle dubbed Animal Planet Rescue. The group's

primary goal is to rescue and reunite domestic animals with their owners.

Rescuers are also expected to help with livestock affected by the disaster.

"Our rescue operation will be focused on reuniting animals with their owners,"

said Nicholas Gilman, head of AHA's emergency animal relief efforts. "Our

truck carries

a great deal of equipment that will not only assist in the rescues, it will

allow us to help

injured animals and offer temporary housing as needed."

This marks the second year AHA has joined forces with the cable channel Animal

Planet to send the disaster relief vehicle and a team of rescuers into

areas hit by natural

disasters.

Posted May 7, 1999


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