“Praise the Lord, we are safe,” were the first words from Early Response Coordinators Rich and Pat Grasman in their May 31 activity report.
World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) volunteers like the Grasmans knowingly take on some risks when they go into disaster areas, and they are trained in emergency procedures. When the couple found themselves staying in a hotel that was in the predicted path of Friday’s storm, they got in their car and drove out of its range.
“Recommendations were that if we were not underground, we should drive south, and that’s what we did,” Pat Grasman said. “When we returned, the area had been hit but our hotel was intact and had electricity. We were able to spend the rest of the night there. Thank God for his provision.”
The Friday night tornado blew through the Oklahoma City area at rush hour after several days of heavy rain and flooding. Seven people were killed and 77 injured in central Oklahoma, Missouri, and parts of the Midwest. The destruction comes less than two weeks after 24 people were killed and 300 injured in the Moore, Oklahoma, area on May 21.
After an eventful night, the Grasmans continued to touch base with tornado survivors and response organization representatives in Cleveland and Potawatomi counties on Saturday morning. In Shawnee, the Grasmans met Pauline Reeves, a 75-year-old grandmother and antique collector who is staying in a tent on her property where her two mobile homes, an outbuilding, and a storage container once stood.
“Recommendations were that if we were not underground, we should drive south, and that’s what we did."
“Pauline took cover in the storage container and put on her grandson’s bike helmet,” Rich Grasman says. “The wind destroyed everything on her property—except the container, which the wind pushed to a 45-degree angle that jammed the doors shut.” When she heard people outside after the wind died down, Pauline yelled until some highway patrolmen got her out and let her daughter and grandson know she was safe.
Returning to Moore where two dozen lives were lost in the May 21 disaster, the Grasmans stopped by one elementary school that took a direct hit. The building was being demolished, but miraculously, all lives had been saved during the storm.
“We talked to a teacher who covered as many children as she could with her body and screamed prayers over them to drown out the noise of the tornado,” Rich says. “When it passed, she pushed away a light fixture, ceiling tiles, and bricks that had fallen on the students. With help from people who were gathering outside, she broke out some remaining glass and began handing students through a window into the arms of anxious parents.”
“We stood quietly with her,” Pat says. “No words can describe how we felt as we tried to put ourselves in her shoes.”
From the traumatic experience of these families, the Grasmans proceeded to Plaza Tower Elementary School where seven children died.
“At Plaza Tower, we found seven 5-foot crosses leaning against a fence that had become an impromptu memorial,” Rich said. “People left teddy bears and other stuffed animals, flowers, t-shirts, and toys along the fence. We left a World Renew DRS hat as a remembrance for the children who died, and we prayed as others gathered there to do the same.”
World Renew DRS Director Bill Adams says that the Grasmans and other volunteers will continue to help tornado survivors in Oklahoma with Spiritual Care and Early Assessment as the recovery progresses. Then planning will begin for clean-up and longer-term recovery efforts.
"We were very concerned for Rich and Pat when we saw the latest storm system taking aim at Oklahoma City. But thankfully, God protected them. It's hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the survivors from the Moore tornado when this new system moved through the area. In particular we have been in prayer for the children...."
World Renew and Reformed Church World Service expect to stand by disaster survivors in Oklahoma for the long-term, assessing needs, and repairing or rebuilding homes for the elderly, the disabled, and those who lack insurance or ability to do repairs on their own.