OK town has 'new spirit'

BY BOYCE BOWDON | CORDELL, OK | November 6, 2001

"Our people have a wonderful spirit."

—Rev. John Wilson

The 3,000 people of Cordell are recovering from an Oct. 9 tornado with a "new spirit," said the Rev. John Wilson, pastor of the town's United Methodist church.

The F-3 tornado that ripped through the southwest Oklahoma town destroyed one out of six houses and heavily damaged many others.

"We are so thankful that nobody was killed or seriously injured," said Wilson. His home -- along with about 175 others -- was destroyed. He and his wife and their 11-year-old daughter were huddled in the hall when the roof blew off and the walls fell in around them, but they crawled out without a scratch. "We had a strong sense of God's presence, and that kept us from being scared to death," he said.

Wilson said the children of Cordell have probably suffered the most. "Many of them are having flashbacks, headaches, and nightmares," he said, reflecting on his visits with a second-grade class.

"Our people have a wonderful spirit," said Wilson. "And we are receiving lots of support from folks in towns nearby."

Wilson said he has never seen churches of Cordell work together with such teamwork, offering their buildings, personnel, and other resources without hesitation.

"Our public school was heavily damaged and several churches are providing space for classes. The Baptists have prepared hundreds of meals for people whose homes were destroyed and for emergency workers. The Church of Christ is providing a building for the disaster response efforts, and they have also provided meals and household items. Catholic Charities from Oklahoma City has been here with teams of counselors. The Mennonites are helping repair and rebuild homes. We are all just doing what we can to help one another."

The United Methodist church is providing space for a daycare center that was destroyed.

Wilson said a disaster response team from the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief were on the scene within 12 hours after the tornado struck and will remain as long as needed, probably several months, providing counselors and teams of volunteers to repair and rebuild.

He said the churches are focusing on serving low-income people who were uninsured or underinsured, and those whose losses are not sufficiently covered by federal assistance or other sources.

"Our little town is not only going to survive," said Wilson. "We are going to come through with a new spirit. We are going to be a better community -- closer to one another, more cooperative -- than we have ever been."

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