I have never been to Oklahoma, but my niece lives there with her husband and three children. She tried to tell me once how special the people are, and being a Michigander and just a bit miffed, I said something stupid like, “Honey, we all think that of where we live.”
The State of Oklahoma highlighted on U.S. map.
I didn’t know . . . so much.
I’m embarrassed to say that until I Googled this map, I didn’t really know exactly where Oklahoma is. My uneducated impression was that it looks hot and dusty, has lots of snakes and big spiders, and gets a lot of tornados.
I could never wrap my brain around the whole tornado thing, even when I see them on television. I just can’t imagine.
Then, on May 20, 2013, it hit a little closer to home. Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, was hit with a monstrous cyclone, called an EF5 tornado. It was 1.5 miles wide, traveled approximately 210 miles an hour, and was on the ground for nearly 44 minutes.
It was a monster.
It tore through tracts of homes, two schools, and a hospital. And it killed 24 people. Nine of them were at Plaza Towers Elementary School, of which seven were very young children.
The destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School is seen in aerial photos during a mission flown by the Civil Air Patrol Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Moore, Okla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel).
Thankfully, my niece and her family were safe. We talked that night for three hours.
We cried together in relief. And for the fear she had felt for her husband who was out working and almost didn’t reach a shelter. And for her in-laws who were away and didn’t know if they had lost their home or their cherished family dog. We cried for the children. And for the heroes.
I waited until the next day to watch the news coverage. It was heartbreaking.
Journalists interviewed residents wanting to hear about the massive storm, their near escapes, their fears, and their heroic stories. And they wondered, as many of us Americans have:
Why in the heck would anyone want to live there?
I don’t wonder anymore.
I know why.
They call it The Heartland. And the Bible Belt. And there’s something to all of that.
I watched the interviews and I heard some incredible stuff.
There was a man and his wife standing in front of a pile of rubble that was once their home. It was just flattened. There was nothing recognizable. They stood in front of the camera looking dusty and winded and grey. We would expect them to be overwhelmed, exasperated, and emotionally devastated. And they were. But there was something else.
I listened to the stories; teachers lying on top of children and using their bodies to protect them from debris, a neighbor getting harmed trying to help another neighbor, emergency help being right there immediately afterwards. In interview after interview, I saw the same people, with different faces, saying the same things over and over again.
They were devastated. And they were standing in front of the wreckage that used to be their living room, or bedroom, or bathroom.
“It is just stuff.” They said.
Long before the government appeared or produced any help, the many Churches of Oklahoma had already hit the roads with food, water, supplies, and help. They were ready. And they didn’t waste a minute.
“I thank God that my family is safe.” They said.
Some of them ran towards the storm, knowing that their help would be urgently needed.
“We were much luckier than others were.” They said.
It just blew me away.
I cried as I heard the stories.
But I was never so proud to be an American as I was watching them.
They are so genuine and humble, so strong and devoted . . . and so grateful.
And although I am quite the liberal gal, and I imagine these Bible Belters to think quite differently than me, none of that matters. Not a bit. We could all learn a lot from them.
They are our fellow Americans.
They are Oklahomans.
And they are a beautifully unique breed of something I have yet to see anywhere else.
“It is just stuff.” They said.
I’ll never forget those words.
TO HELP THOSE IN OKLAHOMA:
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross has several shelters open in Oklahoma and Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles have begun delivering hot meals throughout the affected areas. The Red Cross is also working to link loved ones in Moore who are OK through a website called Safe and Well. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, donate online or by phone at 1-800-RED CROSS.
The Salvation Army is activating disaster response teams and mobile feeding units to help residents and rescuers in Moore, as well as in other locations in the Plains and the Midwest that were impacted by tornadoes. Donate online or text STORM to 80888 to contribute $10 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts or make a donation by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY. If you’re sending a check make sure you put the words “Oklahoma Tornado Relief” on the check, and mail it to: The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK 73157.
AmeriCares has a disaster relief team working with first responders and local health care organizations on the ground in hard-hit Oklahoma City suburbs. Shipments of water, medicines, and emergency aid have been sent, with more shipments underway. You can help by donating through the AmeriCares website or by phone at 1-800-486-HELP. Text LIVE to 25383 to make a $10 donation. You can also mail a check or money order to: AmeriCares, 88 Hamilton Ave., Stamford, CT 06902.
Los Angeles-based international relief agency Operation USA announced it’s providing emergency aid where needed to community-based health organizations across Oklahoma. Donate online, by phone at 1-800-678-7255, or by check made out to Operation USA, 7421 Beverly Blvd., PH, Los Angeles, CA 90036. You can also donate $10 by texting AID to 50555. Corporate donations of bulk quantities of disaster-appropriate supplies are also being requested.
Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief
Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief says it has deployed at least 80 volunteers to respond to severe weather in Oklahoma. Those interested in helping can make a tax-deductible donation to the BGCO’s Disaster Relief ministry online or call (405) 942-3800. You may also send checks to: BGCO Attn: Disaster Relief 3800 N. May Ave. Oklahoma City, OK 73112.
Feed the Children
Feed the Children, which is headquartered in Oklahoma City, has transported bottled water and food to the impacted area. The organization is accepting diapers, canned goods, non-perishable food, snack items, water, sports drinks, and cash donations. Text “Disaster” to 80888 to make a $10 donation. After receiving a confirmation message you must type “yes” to complete the donation. Cash and corporate donations can be made online or by phone at 1-800-627-4556.
Samaritan’s Purse, which provided relief to residents of Moore after the devastating tornado in 1999, deployed two Disaster Relief Units from their North Carolina headquarters before dawn on Tuesday. One will be based in Moore, and the other in Shawnee. Samaritan’s Purse is looking for volunteers to help with the relief effort. You can donate online or by phone at 1-800-528-1980. To give by mail, please send donations to: Samaritan’s Purse, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607-3000.
Save the Children
Save the Children is mobilizing staff to provide support, relief and recovery services to communities and families in Oklahoma. The organization is prepared to deploy their Child Friendly Space kits in shelters, creating safe play areas for kids. They are also ready to deploy infant and toddler hygiene materials to support young children displaced from their homes. Text TWISTER to 20222 to donate $10 to Save the Children and help the response effort. You can donate online or call 1-800-728-3843.
Operation Blessing International
Operation Blessing International, a Virginia-based humanitarian group, is deploying to Moore, after working on tornado relief in Granbury, Texas, following last week’s storm there. A caravan of OBI emergency equipment was sent to Moore, including a construction unit, mobile command center, trucks full of tools and supplies, and a team of construction foremen. You can donate to the group online or donate by phone at 1-800-730-2537.
PLEASE DON’T FORGET THEM. THEY NEED OUR HELP. THANK YOU.