Disaster vols rush to aid 911 dispatcher

LONE GROVE, Okla. (BP)--As a 911 dispatcher for the Carter County Sheriff's Department, Linda Shepard is used to helping others in distress. On Feb. 11, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from Oklahoma's Enon Baptist Association did their best to return the favor.

Shepard and her husband Phil, who is a detective with the Lone Grove Police Department, were at their son's home in the northwest part of the city, helping him install a new water heater, when an EF-4 tornado struck around 7:30 p.m., Feb. 10. The Shepards live across from the Bar-K Mobile Home Park, which was virtually destroyed by the twister. Their home's roof and west side were damaged, primarily as a result of fierce winds driving their pontoon boat and Winnebago onto that side of the structure.

Shepard and her daughter, Cathy, sat on the porch of the damaged home and watched emergency vehicles drive up and down Evergreen St. the next morning as recovery workers entered the trailer park, looking for survivors. The yard was littered with debris.

Their quiet morning of reflection on the storm turned into a beehive of activity, however, when Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and Brad Taylor, pastor of Southwest Baptist Church of Ardmore, Okla., arrived on the scene. After praying with the two ladies, Porter called for the Enon Association chain saw team to come and begin removing debris from the yard.

Meanwhile, across the street, rescue workers had three dogs searching the trailer park for victims of the storm, which had taken nine lives as of Feb. 12. The park looked as if it had been scalped with a huge lawn mower blade. The area resembled a landfill, with bits of insulation and fabric dotting the landscape and hanging from what twisted and snagged tree limbs remained. Overturned and smashed vehicles were everywhere. The scene was eerily quiet as the dogs and their handlers made their way through the debris.

Relief efforts in this small town just west of Ardmore on Highway 70 were centered at First Baptist Church of Lone Grove, located just west of the town's fire department, which was serving as the emergency operations center.

Dewayne Davis, the church's music and youth minister, was directing the congregation's response.

Almost 75 people had taken shelter in a church hallway when the tornado swept through town Feb. 10.

"We had a ladies' Bible study going on at the time," Davis said. "The lights went out, but those ladies kept praying -- hard."

Oklahoma Baptists set up a disaster relief feeding unit at the church Feb. 11 and served their first meals at noon the next day. The church also was serving food in its fellowship hall, which was set up to receive donations for victims, including blankets, clothing, toys, diapers, meals ready to eat, bottled water and soft drinks.

Disaster relief chaplains also were on the ground in the area, ministering to people who had suffered loss from the twister, which was one of three that hit the state Feb. 10. Areas of Oklahoma City and Edmond suffered damage as well, although there were no reported fatalities there. A Southern Baptist chainsaw crew also was ministering in Edmond.

Tornadoes in February are rare in Oklahoma. It had been nine years since a twister had hit the state in February, according to National Weather Service officials.


Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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