Oklahoma seems many months away from again being “OK,” as they saying goes, but residents recently displaced by violent tornadoes are getting food and other aid from local Anchor Baptist Ministries International as a step toward getting back on track.
The three-phase operation of “response, relief and recovery” was launched promptly by ABMI, by wiring money to churches in Oklahoma for them to buy emergency and other items, ABMI head Dr. Randy Barton told The Tribune Friday.
“So far, over $40,000 has come in” from donors, for the relief projects, Dr. Barton said. “We’ve already spent most of it — on product,” not overhead. He said with bulk buying, ABMI gets about $1.20 worth of food for each dollar donated. And “we promise 100 percent of the product will get there.”
It is much cheaper and quicker for items to be bought in the disaster area, rather than here then shipped as had to happen when Hurricane Katrina knocked out power in much of Louisiana in 2005. ABMI sent 60 truck loads of goods for Katrina relief over a year. A half-year ago ABMI aided New York-New Jersey storm relief, having to buy items in Pennsylvania.
This time, ABMI lets local churches buy goods — mainly in Tulsa. That is the main city nearest Oklahoma City, which was hit hardest by twisters and had supplies promptly “exhausted,” Barton said.
ABMI’s relief project started May 21.The day before, a tornado struck southwestern Oklahoma City and its suburb of Moore and reportedly killed 24 people and injured 377. The area again lost power on May 31, when a twister smashed El Reno, Okla. and plowed other towns to the north toward Tulsa.
“It left the largest footprint — 2.6 miles — of any tornado” ever in the world, with “295-plus mph winds,” Barton said. “It spun off at least six killer secondary tornadoes.” Power was out for many at least a week later, Barton noted late last week, such as at ABMI’s distribution enter at Beth Haven Independent Baptist. That is a mere half-mile from storm devastation. Despite a “logistical nightmare,” the church sent in disaster response teams.
That second tornado “defied logic,” Barton added. “It spun backwards, at storm chasers following behind.” Three of them died. The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes, formerly of WLOS-TV in Asheville, was injured as wind repeatedly flipped his car.
The deadliest tornado in U.S. history, killing 695 people in 1925, struck southern portions of Missouri, Illinois then Indiana. An F5-level tornado smashing Moore, Okla. — one of 70 twisters in 21 hours in the state in 1999 — registered a record 318 mph. National news reports further Oklahoma and Kansas average the most tornados per square mile in the nation.
The initial phase boosting emergency response is “providing for immediate needs of shelter, food, water and clothing,” Barton said. He said picnic snacks given cost more than regular groceries, but are critical with refrigeration lost. “It’s what they can eat when staying on a gym floor, or in tent by rubble in front of their home” guarding against vandalism. They include bottled water, military rations, and Pop Tarts. “Beenie Weenies” are a mix of hot dogs and canned pork, often in a sandwich.
Sandwiches and cold Gatorade were given to firemen, paramedics and traffic cops, Barton said. He said a food trailer capable of serving 7,500 hot meals daily came in from Texas, to Moore. “Many victims didn’t have IDs. They only had the clothes on their backs,” Barton said. Relief volunteers “handed clothes to them, out of a pickup truck.”
Spiritual nutrition flavors the food aid. “They need cereal. We give them cereal, in the name of the Lord Jesus,” Dr. Barton said. “We let them know they’re being prayed for, and cared for and a local church will be there for them.”
He understands faith gets tested, in such tragedy. “When you lose everything you have, you might wonder ‘you mean the Lord loves me? Yet he allows that to happen?’ But then, people pull up in a pickup (with supplies), and ask ‘what do you need?’”
Barton added, “it’s as they say ‘putting legs on your prayers.’ This is practical Christianity. We don’t preach a sermon, but let them live one. We work through local churches of like faith and order. The local pastor knows who lives where.” Initial and ultimate purposes, Barton said, are to “provide humanitarian relief, and to provide the gospel. To see people come to know Christ, as savior.”
Relief items got in before “they barricaded everything up,” ahead of bureaucratically-slowed federal relief, Barton said. Communities have progressed to the second phase of “relief” after restoring electricity and water.
Relief involves distributing groceries, not mere snacks, and financial aid such as to workers unpaid after their worksites were destroyed. The middle stage includes protecting a roof-less house with a tarpaulin, ahead of its rebuilding.
The third phase of recovery is in cleaning wreckage and rebuilding and refurnishing homes, Barton said. “We hope to get FEMA money and help people get into a comparable home.”
Barton estimates “it’ll take months, before this area recovers.” Damage is so severe, “you can see a scar on the landscape from that first storm, from outer space.” He was flying back from meetings in Alaska on May 20, as the first twister arrived. “Those storms were throwing us around, at 39,000 feet. I knew it was rough down below.”
ABMI began in 1985, and is affiliated with Anchor Baptist Church along with WGCR 720 AM radio. ABMI is at the 10-acre former Penrose Elementary School, near U.S. 64 West and Crab Creek Road. Its 17,500-square foot ABMI Warehouse and Food Distribution Center serves discount shoppers and aid recipients. Its four shipping bays handle five ABMI tractor-trailer trucks.
These trucks could deliver a “large quality, such as if a water plant donates a full load of water,” Barton said. Otherwise, monetary donations work best. Checks should be made to “ABMI” with “Oklahoma” as the note, to earmark funds. ABMI’s address is 3232 Hendersonville Hwy., Pisgah Forest NC 28768. A credit/debit card donation by phone (883-4545) “puts that money immediately to work, to get them (storm victims) further ahead than day to day,” Dr. Barton said. For more on ABMI, check anchorbaptist.org.