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Okla. DR chainsaw units deploy after Tulsa tornadoes

TULSA, Okla. (BP) — Driving to Tulsa, Okla., a day after three rare August tornadoes destroyed property and injured dozens there Sunday (Aug. 6), Southern Baptist disaster relief leader Sam Porter was on the phone with a member of First Baptist Church of Jenks, Okla., a Tulsa suburb.

“There’s a large tree, a very extremely large tree down in their back yard, and she just said, ‘We cannot afford to have the tree removed, and we’re not able to do it ourselves,'” Porter, Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief state director, told Baptist Press. “But a large tree … can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 to be removed by a tree service.”

The Jenks church member is among several area residents benefitting from Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts after the storm.

Three chainsaw teams of eight people each were mobilized as early as 11 a.m. Sunday after the tornadoes touched down around 1 a.m. in and around Tulsa, Porter said. Eight Southern Baptist DR assessors joined the chainsaw teams to survey damage today (Aug. 7) and interview affected residents.

No one died in the storms, but the tornadoes injured 30 people, destroyed and damaged businesses and homes, unearthed trees and destroyed electrical lines, the National Weather Service (NWS) said in a public information statement. About 1,500 were without electricity at the height of the power outages, and a few hundred remained without power today, Tulsa ABC affiliated KTUL reported.

The first storm, an EF-2 with peak winds of 120–130 mph, struck around 1:19 a.m. in a southeastern Tulsa business district and cut a trail seven miles long and 550 yards wide in the six minutes it was on the ground, the NWS said.

Minutes later at 1:37 a.m., an EF-1 with winds of 90 to 100 mph struck the Tulsa County community of Broken Arrow, causing damage along a three-mile stretch of land about 400 yards wide, the NWS said.

The final storm, also an EF-1, followed at 1:32 a.m. in adjacent Rogers County, mostly destroying trees along a path 200 yards wide and five miles long.

The storms were rare for August in the state included in a swath of the U.S. known as “tornado alley,” marking only the third time in 50 years a tornado has touched down in Tulsa in August, KTUL reported.

SBDR chainsaw teams will likely be active in the area for a week helping homeowners, said Porter, who expects volunteers within the state to be able to meet the demand for help. Other SBDR teams will be deployed as needed, based on damage assessments, Porter said.

“We become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ when everyone else’s worlds fall apart,” said Porter, who was named national director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in July. He will begin his new role at the end of this month. “We never charge for the services, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Christian, or Baptist. If they’re from another faith … of if they have no faith at all, we will help them.”

SBDR chainsaw volunteers typically save families $1,500 to $2,000 each, and can save cities millions of dollars in major disasters, Porter said.

“Most people, they are truly blown away … that Southern Baptists have a ministry that helps in such a way,” Porter said. “Usually, the great thing is, they ask, ‘Well why would you do this?’ We say, ‘We do this because of the love of Christ in our hearts.’

“I tell people we do the disaster relief in order to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We don’t force it on anyone, but they always ask.”

For more information about Oklahoma Disaster Relief, go to https://www.okdisasterhelp.org/.