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Twisters sweep through Oklahoma; Southern Baptists’ disaster relief efforts continue

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–A series of twisters ripped across 35 miles of central Oklahoma May 8, damaging hundreds of houses and buildings, injuring more than 100 people and prompting response by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units.

At least two Southern Baptist church campuses were damaged, one severely. Gloria McCreary, wife of the pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., said the church building “is pretty much destroyed. We’re not going to be able to have services there. Of course, we don’t have the assessment on it yet.”

Her husband, Ed, was cleaning the church May 8 in place of an injured custodian who unwittingly left just 10 minutes before the tornado struck, she said.

“We praise God. We’re thankful,” Gloria McCreary said. “We know that He is in control of this and He’s got great plans.”

The tornado also damaged Mashak Baptist Church in southeast Oklahoma City. No reports were available on the severity of its damage at press time.

About 5:30 p.m., the storm’s path cut about one-fourth of a mile south of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, where former Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff is pastor.

The sprawling campus was not damaged and is serving as a central command post for civil authorities and the news media, said Ralph Speas, associate pastor.

The church was evacuated about an hour earlier, Speas said.

Disaster Relief Units of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma were at First Southern and working with the Red Cross to serve 3,000 meals May 9 to displaced families.

The tornados cut a path across two counties and six communities, leaving more than 1,900 homes damaged and injuring more than 100 people, including five that were critical, according to the Tulsa World and Daily Oklahoman newspapers.

The tornadoes moved eerily close to the path of the May 3, 1999 tornadoes here that killed 44 people and injured more than 700. That storm created winds of 318 mph — the fiercest tornado ever recorded, the National Weather Service reported.

“Our church was able to minister to many people during that time,” said McCreary of the 1999 storm. “The tables are turned now.”

The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response in Oklahoma is a continuation of relief efforts in the Midwest and South. Units responding including mobile kitchens, chain saw units clearing downed trees, crisis intervention teams providing counseling and “mud-out” units cleaning out homes in flood-stricken areas.

Following is a summary of tornado damage and relief efforts:

— In Missouri, state feeding units are operational at Mt. Vernon and Camdenton, and an Arkansas feeding unit is set up on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Two Missouri chain saw units and one Arkansas unit are also working in the area.

— In Tennessee, chainsaw units from seven states and mud-out units from four states have been activated to assist Tennessee Baptist units, with many of the recovery workers housed at East Union Baptist Church in Jackson. A feeding unit at West Jackson Baptist Church has prepared 3,750 meals as of May 8.

Sixteen clean-up teams and two mud-out teams have been activated in the area, cleaning 35 homes thus far. A shower unit is supporting the operation. Two crisis intervention teams also are active, providing counseling and other assistance to residents. Another Tennessee unit is assisting The Salvation Army in operation of its mobile kitchen.

— In Illinois, two state chainsaw units and one Kentucky unit had completed 10 jobs as of May 9, and a childcare unit is ministering to children affected by the tornadoes.

— The Kansas-Nebraska feeding unit continues operation at Trinity Baptist Church in Pittsburg, Kan., preparing 825 meals on May 8. Volunteers from area congregations, as well as students from Christian Challenge at nearby Pittsburg State University, were assisting in food preparation. Students also joined in the clean-up efforts in Franklin, Kan.

New Life Baptist Church in Franklin, just one-quarter mile from ground zero, sustained little to no damage. New Life pastor Ted Wynn said one member of the newly constituted church had part of the roof swept away during the storm. Christian Challenge students from Pittsburg State were helping secure tarps on the roof May 5 and 6.

Among the volunteers were pastors Jeff Street and Jim McMechan of Baxter Springs, Kan. They pastor First Baptist and Fellowship Baptist churches, respectively.

On May 7 Street and McMechan were walking through Franklin’s damage handing out water and snacks to families who were recovering what personal items they could find.

— In Arkansas, five chainsaw teams completed work May 8 in the Antioch area.

— In Mississippi, a state feeding unit began operating May 9 at First Baptist Church of Aberdeen.

— In Georgia, Disaster Relief leaders are assessing damage in the West Point area following flooding that began late May 8.

More than 25,000 trained volunteers currently are part of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network nationwide. The units generally are owned and operated by state conventions and local associations and coordinated nationally by the North American Mission Board.

For regular updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses, visit www.namb.net/dr.
With reporting by Randy Cowling, James Dotson, Jerry Pierce and Dana Williamson.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CLEANING UP, WATER BREAK and HELPING HAND.

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