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Deadly tornadoes strike Oklahoma

Voluntary organizations plan sustained response to help survivors


Immediate responders worked through the night Monday hoping to find more survivors in the wake of a massive tornado that killed more than 20 people as it plowed across several Oklahoma City suburbs. It was the second day tornadoes had turned deadly in the state.

At least five schools and several medical centers were damaged by the twister that was reported to be more than a mile wide during part of its journey. Until this week, 2013 had been a very quiet tornado season with just three fatalities reported. That all changed Monday afternoon.

As emergency officials rushed to find survivors, voluntary organizations like the Salvation Army were deploying volunteers to feed and care for survivors. Unaffiliated volunteers were encouraged to stay away from the communities devastated by the tornadoes.

According to a spokesman for the Oklahoma Emergency Department Management, the Salvation Army had already sent three canteens to the Shawneee and Enid, OK, areas to help respond to Sunday's storms. Three more were sent to Moore, OK, Monday afternoon and additional units were expected to be deployed Tuesday morning. The Salvation Army is coordinating with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for meal preparation for the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross to then distribute.

Three new shelters, including one at the St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, were opened Monday afternoon by the American Red Cross. Three other shelters housing survivors from the storms the previous night, remained open.

Church World Service (CWS) was amongst the disaster organizations planning a response. "We have worked extensively (in the past) in communities struck by tornadoes," said Donna Derr, of the Emergency Response Program of CWS. "Our job is to provide immediate assistance with CWS Kits, and focus on helping the most vulnerable, who typically have the hardest time recovering in the long term."

Other faith-based organizations are working with local partners as they assess the most appropriate response to the storms.

On Tuesday morning, Jeff Koller, the Disaster Response Coordinator for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and Jay Blough, MDS state chairperson, led a team assessing the famage in Shawnee and Carney where storms hit Sunday. They hope to be able to be able to travel to Moore Tuesday afternoon.

World Renew said it is responding in collaboration with Reformed Church World Service. Rich and Pat Grasman, Early Response Coordinators for World Renew are being deployed to Moore this week to help with Spiritual Care and Early Assessment, and to plan for clean-up and long term recovery efforts.

The Week of Compassion said it is working through its Oklahoma Regional Office to determine the best way to contribute to the long-term recovery of survivors.

Children's Disaster Services, a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries, said on its Facebook page that it has put members of its Critical Response Team on alert to respond to the powerful tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma yesterday afternoon. CDS staff started putting volunteers on alert at the request of the American Red Cross. Critical response volunteers have additional training to help children and families cope with extreme trauma and loss of loved ones.

Florence Coppola, of the United Church of Christ (UCC) National Disaster Ministries has been in contact with UCC Kansas Oklahoma Conference staff according to the organization's Facebook page. She said she expects an ecumenical response that will include clean up kits and personal protection equipment, pastoral counseling and support, funds to support immediate and long term recovery efforts and volunteers to help rebuild homes.

Lutheran Disaster Response and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) both announced they are in contact with local judicatories and other regional partners to provide appropriate response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it had sent an urban rescue team to the scene, and President Obama approved a major disaster declaration for the counties impacted by the storm.

"It seems that our worst fears have happened today," said Bill Bunting, National Weather Service meteorologist in Norman, Okla, following the storm.

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