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Death toll 24 and climbing in Oklahoma after tornado’s devastation of Moore

MOORE, Okla. (BP) — Dozens were killed as a historic tornado moved through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, Okla., Monday afternoon (May 20) prompting the North American Mission Board to direct all incoming disaster relief funds to the area.

By Tuesday morning the death toll was reported at 51 and climbing, but the medical examiner’s office later revised that to at least 24 deaths including nine children, according to the Associated Press.

Many of the victims were children, after the tornado severely damaged two elementary schools. The search for survivors continued Tuesday, and it was unclear how many could still be trapped in rubble, dead or alive.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter expressed concern for the tragedy in the nation’s heartland.

“On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, our prayers and thoughts are with the families and victims of the tragic tornado in Moore, Okla.,” Luter said in a statement May 21. “Not only our prayers but disaster relief teams from across the SBC are there to assist in any way possible. May God give the citizens of Moore, Okla., comfort, strength and hope during this trying time.”

More than 230 people were injured as the two-mile wide tornado stayed on the ground for 40 minutes, cutting a 17-mile path in a heavily populated area. An early estimate rated the tornado as an EF4, CNN said.

The North American Mission Board, in charge of the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief operation, used Twitter Monday night to signal an exclusive allotment of funds.

“We are currently directing all donations to our disaster fund to Oklahoma City relief. #prayforoklahoma,” NAMB tweeted with a link to a donation form.

Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, told Baptist Press May 21 his prayers “go out to the dear people of Oklahoma during this tragic time.”

Page spoke with Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and “assured him that Southern Baptists will stand by them.”

“Even when media focus moves to another story, we will not forget. Individual Southern Baptists as well as our many disaster relief teams will continue to minister for as long as it takes,” Page said.

Jordan circulated a letter Monday night saying he was “deeply devastated by the destruction and loss of life” caused by the Moore tornado as well as those that struck Sunday in nearby areas.

“I pray God gives us the strength to pull together, as His people, to turn this tragedy into a moment that gives Him glory,” Jordan wrote. “Our disaster relief teams are on the scene of every area affected in Oklahoma, and we will not leave the scenes until every family is served.”

Jordan asked Southern Baptists to pray for everyone affected by the disaster and to consider making a contribution to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief efforts.

“May we be the hands and feet of Christ during these crucial days,” Jordan said.

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief teams already were responding to severe weather from Sunday in Shawnee, Edmond and Little Axe when the Moore tornado hit Monday afternoon.

“Within moments of hearing of the destruction in Moore, we put together a rapid response volunteer team to help with the cleanup and recovery efforts,” Sam Porter, the BGCO’s disaster relief director, said Monday night. “Our teams are one the ground now surveying the area and helping where we can be of most assistance.”

At least 80 volunteers from Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief had been deployed since Sunday, including a mobile command center, a mobile kitchen and feeding units, chainsaw teams and about 10 chaplains.

Monday’s storm traveled part of the same path of destruction as a tornado that hit Moore on May 3, 1999. That EF5 storm, with winds in excess of 300 miles per hour, was the first disaster response coordinated by Porter.

Disaster relief officials from the North American Mission Board were en route to Oklahoma from Georgia Tuesday to help coordinate the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response.

“Prayer is the biggest thing people can do now,” Fritz Wilson, NAMB’s executive director of disaster relief, said. “The total loss, the loss of a child or other family member, is one of the hardest things the survivors will have to deal with. The emotional toll is devastating.”

In support of Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma volunteers, NAMB dispatched a semi-truck with bottled water and rolls of roofing tarp from its headquarters Tuesday morning. A mobile command center was being prepped for departure Wednesday.

Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee was opening its residence center for those who have lost or sustained damage to their homes. Up to 350 beds are available through May 29 when rooms will be needed for previously scheduled summer camps, the university said. Food there is being provided by Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief.

President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday morning regarding the Oklahoma disaster. “Our gratitude is with the teachers who gave their all to shield their children; with the neighbors, first responders and emergency personnel who raced to help as soon as the tornado passed; and with all of those who, as darkness fell, searched for survivors through the night,” the president said, adding that “our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today.”

Flags at the U.S. Capitol were lowered to half-staff Tuesday in honor of the victims in Oklahoma.

Rep. James Lankford, R.-Okla., a Southern Baptist, mentioned First Baptist Church in Moore on MSNBC Tuesday morning as a relief center. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R.-Okla., tweeted that Southern Baptist relief efforts were operating out of First Baptist Church in Carney, Okla., and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin retweeted a message from the BGCO regarding how to donate to the convention’s disaster relief fund.

In Missouri, the campus of Hannibal-LaGrange University suffered extensive tree and water damage from storms on Monday evening. Many of the trees that lined the main entrance were damaged or uprooted, the school, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, reported.

Several buildings sustained damage, and Missouri Baptist disaster relief chainsaw teams had arrived. They were using the campus as a command station for a relief effort in the local community, the university said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was speaking on NPR Tuesday on the topic of God, evil and suffering, and he tweeted that it was “very moving” to realize the conversation was scheduled weeks ago.

In a blog post, Mohler helped Christians think through how to respond to tragedy such as the Moore tornado.

“We weep with those who weep, and we reach out with acts of care and compassion. We pray for those who are grieving and have experienced such loss. We cry for the children lost in this storm, even as we are so thankful for brave people who did their best to save lives as the winds raged. And, we pray: Even so, Lord come quickly,” Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com.

To support Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations or call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262).
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Erin Roach