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Tornadoes prompt major response

Voluntary organizations respond to deadly storms in Oklahoma


Emergency responders were still searching through the rubble of what President Barack Obama said Tuesday was "one of the most destructive storms in history," as faith-based organizations planned for a massive long-term recovery effort.

The President declared a major disaster following a Monday tornado that carved a path 17-miles long and as much as two miles wide in some areas including the city of Moore, OK, and other Oklahoma City suburbs. Moore, which took the brunt of the storm, had been hit by similar storms in 1999 and 2003.

According to the Oklahoma medical examiner's office at least 24 people were killed by the storm. Nine of the fatalities were children. It was the second consecutive day of deadly tornadoes to hit the state.

Within hours of the 3:30 PM, storm, voluntary organizations like the Salvation Army were deploying volunteers to feed and care for survivors.

At the same time, well-meaning volunteers were getting in the way. As a result, the Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (Oklahoma VOAD) issued a plea that its member organizations ask "all volunteers or groups you may come in contact with to NOT self-deploy...

"Best practices include a collaborative response, so people are directed when needed and wehre needed."

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. 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.

Greg Forrester, executive in charge of US Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), said his organization is ready to assist with training, funds, and consultation, once the Oklahoma Conference and local officials have had an opportunity to assess and define immediate needs. "The affected communities and conference must lead in their recovery," he said.

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