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Chaos, caring meet in OK shelter

BY GEORGE PIPER | MOORE, Okla. | May 5, 1999

MOORE, Okla. (May 5, 1999) -- Chaos and caring meet under one roof at the

First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., a house of God which has become a

house of hope for tornado survivors in this central Oklahoma town.

Monday's devastation is seen just yards away from the church's door, where

an adjacent subdivision transformed from a thriving neighborhood into a

massive trash heap -- all the more reason for Pastor Alan Cox to give his

congregation's facilities over to the community in the days after the storm.

"We're doing it to alleviate the pain and suffering in our community," Moore

says above the din of relief workers and survivors at First Baptist, a

Southern Baptist congregation. "We're doing everything we can to help."

Central Oklahomans will need a lot of help as they recover from the

state's worst tornado outbreak in decades. Officials put the death toll from

Monday's twisters at 38 in Oklahoma, with nearly 700 injured. The same storm

system caused five deaths and injured at least 100 near Wichita, Kan.

With winds topping 250 mph and tornadoes up to a mile wide at time, the

storm damaged and destroyed thousands of buildings. Small towns like Bridge

Creek, where 11 people died, and Mulhall barely exist now, while half of

Moore's 15,000 homes reportedly sustained some sort of damage. Oklahoma

City's southern section lost an estimated 1,500 homes as tornadoes claimed

life and property in at least 11 Oklahoma counties all of which have been

declared federal disaster areas.

Such a difficult situation requires a massive relief effort. At First

Baptist, churches and disaster relief organizations are coordinating an

operation that is bringing in donated goods from around the country. Cox

estimates 500 to 600 people stayed overnight at the church following the

storm, while countless others came for food, clothing and medical. Other

churches in Moore as well as throughout the affected towns are sheltering

and feeding survivors.

National faith-based disaster relief organizations are already planning

relief and recovery efforts, and several are soliciting contributions for

the communities.

Several relief workers, including Cox, stayed up all night Monday and

entered Tuesday evening working on adrenaline. How communities like Moore

bounce back is tough to say right now, says Cox, but he's seen enough of his

town in the past five years to know that the residents are a resilient

people. The important thing now, though, is getting through these first few


"We're just simply putting arms around people, crying with them and letting

them know they have a friend here at First Baptist Church," he says.

Monday's tornado outbreak -- up to 76 were reported in five states -- was the

nation's deadliest since 42 people were killed Feb. 22, 1998 in Florida. It

was also the deadliest such tragedy to hit Oklahoma since 1947, when a

twister killed 113 people in Woodward. The five deaths in Kansas are the

most since 17 people lost their lives to tornadoes on April 26, 1991.

The 43 fatalities brings the death toll from tornadoes in 1999 to 80,

according to figures from the Storm Prediction Center. Last year, tornadoes

claimed 130 lives nationally.

In the past three years, May has produced the most tornadoes, with an

average of 262 per month, according to SPC data. Last May, 10 people died in

313 confirmed tornadoes. This has been the deadliest May for tornadoes since

1985, when 78 people died nationally.

Updated May 5, 1999

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