Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – As dawn broke over the heart of America, officials with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma told CapitolBeatOK that early preparations were under way to send disaster relief teams to the eastern United States.
Other private sector groups are also preparing to jump into the fray. When they get to the East Coast, the state’s experienced volunteers and professionals could assist with storm recovery efforts in the wake of devastation from Tropical Storm Sandy, which crossed onto land last night.
The Oklahomans will be part of a national response from Baptists and other faith-based communities, including Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities -- as well as groups like the Red Cross.
Tuesday morning, Sam Porter, the state Baptist Convention’s disaster relief director, told CapitolBeatOK, “I am in communication with our national leaders this morning and believe that we will know something by early afternoon. We have a national Conference call today at noon. We should know more then. Today, they are assessing the damage and determining what all is really needed for clean up recovery.”
Yesterday, as the eye of the storm neared the coasts of New Jersey and New York, Porter said in an email, “We are coordinating with sister states in our disaster relief network, who are already assisting. … Oklahoma Baptists are willing to go any distance to help those in need, whether through our feeding units or other emergency response services."
Already this year, Oklahoma Baptists have financed and manned responses to wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Louisiana.
The Southern Baptist emergency network operates in 42 states. The nationwide communication system among directors and volunteers geared up as reports of what some meteorologists dubbed a “Frankenstorm” intensified over recent days. Less than half a day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the extent of damage in the region is likely to reach billions of dollars, and many deaths have been attributed to the storm.
Porter said, “Oklahomans go all over the U.S. and the world to serve in the wake of disasters. We are blessed to have relationships with other states that come when we need them. That really shows the strength of our states working together. We come to each others rescue when help is needed."
Oklahoma volunteers have played an important role in recovery efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac barreled through the Gulf of Mexico two months ago. In early September, Porter organized deployment of “rebuild trailers” and “mud out trailers” to Westwego and Lafitte in the Cajun State.
The operation ran for several weeks, feeding thousands displaced by the storm (okdisasterhelp.com).
People in Oklahoma City have for the past two decades had a special tie with New York City’s “first responders.” Both government and private sector relief groups from the Empire State were among the first who deployed into Oklahoma after the A.P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a similar deployment from Oklahoma to New York occurred.
Beyond the man-made terror of the Murrah Building bombing, relief groups in Oklahoma are experienced in rapid response to natural disasters, particularly tornadoes. The state rests in the middle of what is deemed “tornado alley” by weather watchers.