OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Disaster relief feeding units were activated and chainsaw teams were being called in as one in three Oklahoma residents were without electrical power Dec. 11 following a widespread ice storm that continued to overwhelm the Midwest.
At least 22 deaths had been blamed on the storm, and states of emergency were declared in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. By Tuesday, the storm had moved into Iowa.
More than 500,000 customers were without electricity in Oklahoma since Monday, when trees began snapping under the weight of the ice, bringing down power lines. The offices of the Missouri Baptist Convention in Jefferson City were closed Monday and Tuesday because of the ice.
Officials at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee did not cancel classes, and students were asked to use caution as they made their way to campus for final exams. The university expected to lose several trees to the ice storm, which reminded longtime residents of a similar disaster in 1979 that claimed 100 trees.
“It’s the biggest loss since that storm,” Johnny Cullison, OBU’s administrator emeritus, who worked at the university from 1970 until he retired in 2003, said of the current situation, according to the school’s website.
“It is hard to realize how severely some will have to be pruned,” Cullison said. “They are losing 20 to 25 years of growth.”
Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief kitchens operating from First Baptist Church in Sapulpa and Arrow Heights Baptist Church in Broken Arrow were supplying meals for 17 Red Cross shelters in Tulsa and Miami, Sam Porter, Oklahoma’s disaster relief coordinator, reported.
In Oklahoma City, a feeding unit at Trinity International Baptist Church was supplying three shelters in the city, and First Baptist Church in Chandler and First Baptist Church in Drumright were serving as shelters for residents with no electricity to heat their homes. By the end of the day Tuesday, the state convention expected all kitchen facilities to be accompanied by disaster relief chaplains.
Porter has requested that 10 out-of-state chainsaw teams deploy to Oklahoma City and 10 to Tulsa to help with the emergency cleanup of downed trees. Those 20 units would join the eight Oklahoma chainsaw crews already activated, Porter said. The teams will focus on highways, city streets, homes and cars that are covered with trees and limbs, he said.
First Baptist Church in Tulsa housed 270 people during the night of Dec. 10, according to Deron Spoo, the church’s pastor.
“Walking through this morning, there are quite a few families with little kids, and that breaks your heart to see that happening,” Spoo told Baptist Press.
The downtown church is serving as a Red Cross shelter, as they’ve done during previous ice storms.
“By virtue of our power lines being underground, we’re still up and running, and I think it would be wrong not to use our facility,” Spoo said, adding that his family didn’t have electricity at their home.
“We do have a small gas fireplace, so we all huddled in front of that last night and did just fine,” he said.
Spoo said the overall demeanor of the people seeking shelter at First Baptist Tulsa, including some stranded Greyhound bus passengers, was positive.
“More than one person this morning thanked me profusely for using our facilities. There’s a wonderful sense of gratitude,” he said. “I think people are just happy to be out of the cold.
“I talked with one gentleman this morning who thought he was going to tough it out in his house, but he said, ‘There’s no way I could get warm last night. I could not get warm for anything,'” Spoo recounted. “He was walking in this morning, rain-drenched as well. We got him some breakfast, got him some hot coffee, and he warmed up. That’s worth a lot to him and to us to be able to do that.”
The church runs devotional spots on local television stations, and Spoo said several evacuees indicated they recognized the church from the commercials.
“So they know why we’re here, and a lot of the people coming in are already believers,” he said. “I’ve talked with a few believers, and they said, ‘This is what the love of Christ is all about.’ So they are picking up on that.”
As he drove to the church Tuesday morning, Spoo said he thought of Matthew 5:14, where Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world.’
“That takes on new meaning when 400,000 people are without power and without lights,” Spoo said. “The church can be a very simple expression of the love of Christ in a dire situation.”
Terry Henderson, national disaster relief director with the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press he expected Missouri to activate emergency response teams as soon as road conditions allowed.
“Supposedly they’ve gotten hit pretty hard. They’ve been closed for two days,” Henderson said Tuesday morning. “Their state director, Danny Decker, told me from his cell phone yesterday that they can’t get their units out because there’s so much ice.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.