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Disaster Relief in assessment stage after deadly Midwest tornadoes

A representative from Sulphur, Okla., meets with Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief Elaine Crawford, a chaplain, and her husband Steve, an assessor, to gauge recovery and response after a deadly April 26 tornado outbreak. Photo from Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief

SULPHUR, Okla. (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief personnel are focusing on communicating with authorities to assess recovery and cleanup efforts after tornadoes on Friday (April 26) that left at least five dead.

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief has established a command center at Calvary Baptist Church in Sulphur, director Jason Yarbrough told Baptist Press, alongside another one at Trinity Baptist Church in Morris. A third site may be established in Holdenville.

It appears that church buildings were unscathed, he said, although church members did see property damage, including a tree that fell on the home of Trinity’s pastor.

Recovery teams, including chainsaw units, are on-site alongside feeding units for volunteers.

Four deaths were reported in Oklahoma alongside at least 100 injured, with Sulphur and Holdenville the two hardest hit areas. Holdenville was the site of two deaths, including a 4-month-old. Yarbrough said Disaster Relief personnel are talking with community leaders to gauge a response.

Kansas-Nebraska Disaster Relief director Charles Neece told Baptist Press that another death was recorded on Saturday in Minden, Iowa, when a man succumbed to injuries suffered from Friday’s tornado.

There were about 30-40 houses destroyed in Elkhorn, a suburb near Omaha, he said. As most if not all of those are likely to be insured, Kansas-Nebraska Disaster Relief is looking closer at affected areas more likely to be home to those without insurance. Coordination efforts are underway between churches and local leaders in the towns of Bennington and Blair, north of Omaha.

“Church members are also out helping pick up debris like roofing tin out of farmers’ fields,” Neece said.

He compared some areas with what he observed as part of the Disaster Relief response in December 2021 to a deadly tornado that hit Kentucky. Many structures in that case were beyond saving and eventually bulldozed by FEMA, he said.

Gaylon Moss, director for Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief, told BP that volunteers worked alongside Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief to provide meals on April 28 and distributed tarps and tubs to local authorities.

“We are meeting with county officials today to provide additional ministry where needed,” he said.