By Joe Conway
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- North American Mission Board Disaster Relief Executive Director Fritz Wilson appealed to Southern Baptists to pray for the people of Moore, Okla., as the entity geared up to respond to the devastating EF4 tornado that leveled portions of the Oklahoma City suburb May 20. NAMB disaster relief leaders were en route to Moore Tuesday to help coordinate the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) response.
“Prayer is the biggest thing people can do now,” said Wilson, as emergency workers and first responders continued to search the area for survivors. “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.”
Currently all donations made to SBDR are being directed to the Moore, Okla., response. To make a donation, visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations or call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262).
In support of Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma SBDR 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. NAMB disaster relief coordinators Eddie Blackmon and Beth Bootz are traveling to Moore. NAMB chaplain Enio Aguero was also heading to Moore to lead SBDR chaplaincy efforts.
“Our prayers are certainly with the people of Moore, and all of the affected areas,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell. “Oklahoma Baptists have one of the best disaster relief teams that Southern Baptists have in North America.”
Final confirmation from the National Weather Service was still pending, but the storm was estimated as much as one half mile wide with winds in excess of 170 miles per hour. The official death toll stood at 24 on the morning of May 21.
Monday’s storm traveled part of the same path of destruction of the 1999 storm that hit Moore on May 3. That F5 storm, with winds in excess of 300 miles per hour, was the first SBDR response coordinated by Oklahoma SBDR director Sam Porter.
“When I spoke to Sam on the phone while this storm was still on the ground, you could hear it in his voice,” said Wilson. “It was too similar to the ’99 storm. He had just taken the position in 1998 and Moore was his first response.”
Porter immediately began calling Oklahoma units to prepare to respond Monday. The initial command center was located at First Baptist Church, Moore.
SBDR volunteers from Oklahoma were already engaged in response at Shawnee, just 20 miles east of Moore. Missouri volunteers were also responding to tornado damage in Hannibal from Sunday’s storms.
In addition to these new responses, Southern Baptists are engaged in a two-year rebuild effort in areas of the North East impacted by Hurricane Sandy last fall.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.