May 11, 2010
The kitchen in Darryl Tonemah's home in Norman, Okla., stands open to the sky after a tornado ripped off the roof. A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood.
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Tornadoes galloped across Oklahoma late Monday afternoon, killing seven people, critically or seriously injuring dozens, destroying and damaging homes and businesses and leaving thousands without electricity.
United Methodist Ginny Underwood and her two daughters were on their way to her mother’s underground storm shelter around 5 p.m. when they “saw a tornado in the sky.
“Sirens were sounding. We practically dove into the shelter,” she recalled. “All (was) over in about five minutes.” Her family was unharmed.
By Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Brad Henry had declared 56 of the state’s 77 counties disaster areas.
The Rev. David Wilson, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference superintendent, said the areas most affected were Norman and the far eastern portion of Oklahoma City. Much of the destruction was in the rural areas.
Underwood’s husband, John, is disaster coordinator for the Indian missionary conference. He spent Tuesday assessing damage at Billy Hooton and another United Methodist church. The conference's largest church—Norman First American—appeared unharmed, even though some homes in the area sustained major damage.
Two Oklahoma Conference employees said they spotted funnel clouds all the way home from work.
Enid District “had some storms and hail,” she said. “The wheat crop was flattened.”
The Rev. Gary E. Holdeman, district superintendent, noted the crop loss could have major economic impact.
Tecumseh United Methodist Church Pastor Keith King and his family were among about a dozen people huddled in a storm shelter Monday night as two back-to-back storms passed over that city.
“The tornado touched down a couple of blocks from us,” he said.
King reported many damaged homes. On Tuesday morning, he saw people getting out of cars, chainsaws and gas cans in hand, offering to help.
The home of Danny and Shirley Pigg in Moore, Okla., was destroyed by a tornado. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Rev. Frankye Johnson.
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“I’m picking up debris at a house right now,” he said. His wife is a teacher, and her co-worker’s home was lost. “They are trying to salvage what they can.
“We are expecting rain all week long, and a lot of people don’t have roofs.”
King said damage at the church was minimal. “We lost a stained-glass window.” After the storms, King began trying to retrieve pieces of the broken window, and he found its centerpiece—a picture of the Bible—unbroken.
The Baptist church across the street was not as fortunate. A storage unit went through that church’s front entryway.
‘People are shaken up’
Back in 1999, Holly McCray, editor of The Oklahoma United Methodist Contact, said, “the city of Moore was devastated with a tornado, rate an F5, roared through. About 50 people in the state died, and property damage was massive as the result of that tornado outbreak across central Oklahoma.” Recalling that tragedy, many of the residents were traumatized by Monday’s tornado.
On Tuesday, the congregation’s pastor—the Rev. Tish Malloy—walked the streets and prayed with the people. “People are shaken up,” she explained simply. “I’m their pastor.”
An 85-year-old woman told Malloy she had never seen hail so large and loud. She retrieved baseball-sized hailstones from her yard 30 minutes after yesterday’s storm passed.
Mere weeks ago, McCray said, a “safe room” was installed in the conference’s episcopal residence. Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. reported he was prepared to use that room for the first time, but the tornadoes bypassed his neighborhood in the northwest part of Oklahoma City.
Amid a regularly scheduled Oklahoma Conference cabinet meeting Tuesday, district superintendents were contacting their churches and checking on members’ well-being.
Hayes issued a brief statement: “I hope congregations across Oklahoma will be praying for the families of those who died in yesterday’s storms as well as those who suffered property damage throughout the state. Also, I encourage all who are able to help to contact the disaster response officials in the Volunteers in Mission office, to volunteer their time, talents and gifts to the need.”
The conference's disaster response team is gearing up and asking people to register to help with debris removal, “especially for people without insurance, people who fall between the cracks,” McCray said.
Disaster response is being coordinated through the Rev. Jeremy Bassett, Oklahoma Conference Volunteers in Mission Office, 405-530-2029, or e-mail RNorman@okumc.org.
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or email@example.com.