Helping Oklahoma Bounce Back

May 7, 2024 • United States
Samaritan’s Purse volunteer teams worked to tarp roofs in Sulphur, Oklahoma, after an EF3 twister leveled parts of the town on April 27.

Samaritan’s Purse is in Sulphur helping residents recover from a tornado that changed the face of their small town. More storms are expected in the area.

U.S. Disaster Relief

Yesterday’s tornado watch had the residents of Sulphur on edge, but by the grace of God, it missed the town of just over 5,000 residents that is still reeling from the EF3 tornado that tore through the evening of April 27, leveling their historic downtown and significantly damaging over 100 homes.

Just two days later, Samaritan’s Purse was in Murray County assessing how we could help. Since then, over 100 of our volunteers have served dozens of homeowners, including members of the Chickasaw Nation.

The EF3 tornado that struck Sulphur surprisingly left some homes standing, while others were completely destroyed. Since this photo was taken, Samaritan’s Purse teams have tarped this roof.

Every night in the nearby Ardmore 911 dispatch center, staff expects the unexpected. But nothing quite prepared dispatcher Ermalinda Ford for what she experienced the night of April 27. All of Murray and Love Counties’ emergency response systems were down, so Ardmore, the county seat of Carter County, started getting calls from throughout the tri-county area. One resident after another called in alarm, with some stuck in their storm cellars as they anticipated the severe storm. Ardmore’s radio system had also gone down so Ford and her coworkers were playing phone tag with the emergency medics to relay the time-sensitive information they received.

As she continued fielding these emergencies through the overnight hours, her tension grew, but not just because of the acute nature of the calls. Ford was learning that the twister was headed straight toward her hometown of Sulphur. Her kids, Isabella, 10, and Winston, 5, were overnighting with her parents on the west side of town, while their own recently purchased home was on the east side.

How could she continue to deal with everyone else’s emergencies while her own home and family were at risk?

Dispatcher Ermalinda Ford fielded emergency calls during the storm even while her own home suffered damage.

“As a mom, that was something I had to push aside,” Ford said.

She carried on through her 12-hour shift with a philosophy that has guided her two years in dispatch.

“You push stress away and think about it afterwards.”

Seeing How the Storm Hit Home

At 7 a.m. when Ford got off work, she saw her first glimpses of the destruction. She pulled onto her street to find her neighbor’s roof and front walls completely gone. And at her house, she found a tree down in her front yard, holes in her roof, front windows broken, and the privacy fence in the backyard destroyed. Her house was filled with fiberglass and pieces of other people’s windows. She had a house still, but it was in shambles.

That was one year to the day since she had closed on the property.

Helping to Lift the Burden

Last week, a team of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers from around the country came to her house to clean up her yard.

“It was a lot of relief to have them take care of everything,” Ford said. “It was one less thing to lose sleep over.”

Ford is still recovering from all she lost, not to mention the secondary trauma from all the calls she fielded the night of the storm.

To protect homeowners from the elements while they recover from the storm, volunteers also work to tarp damaged windows.

“I’ll process it eventually. Right now, we’re still working through it.

“I have a hard time processing what I need—nourishment, hydration—you don’t think about it.”

While a team of orange-clad volunteers cleaned up her yard, Ford was grateful to talk to two of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains about all she had experienced. They also gave her a Biblically based resource that will continue to help her in the days ahead.

Serving for an Ultimate Purpose

One of the volunteers working on Ford’s yard was Rocky Earles, who came all the way from Chama, New Mexico, to clean up homes and yards through Samaritan’s Purse. His hope for every homeowner he serves is “first and foremost that they know Jesus Christ—that they know Him for safety, solace, and know that they can rebuild their lives.”

In addition to his personal faith in Christ, Earles’ 10 years of active duty with the U.S. Army 10th Special Forces gave him a heart to serve others. He encourages others to join him.

“People need to give back because one day you may be the people in need.”

Rocky Earles came all the way from Chama, New Mexico, to work on yards like Ermalinda’s.

Robert Matthews also came from Plano, Texas, with his mother-in-law to serve the hurting homeowners in Sulphur for a day.

“I’ve volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse before,” Matthews said. “It’s always been a really encouraging experience to see how everything is geared toward sharing Christ with people and not just doing the work.”

Lifting God High Above Sulphur’s Tragedy

Before the recent tornado, the small town of Sulphur was perhaps best known as home of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, formerly Platt National Park.

Bill Leveridge, who pastors Crossway Church in Sulphur, first moved to the town at age 13. Being connected to the community for over 50 years, he tears up when he thinks and talks about what’s happened. What is now just rubble was once three-story rock and concrete buildings, the men’s shop, the hardware store, and more.

“Some of those buildings were built before statehood in 1907,” he said. “It just wiped them out.”

Now the narrow streets of town are crowded with dump truck traffic—each loaded down with large tree limbs, debris, and once-held-dear belongings.

Pastor Bill Leveridge of Crossway Church believes that by the power of God, the people of Sulphur will rebuild their hometown.

Shortly after the storm, Leveridge was driving down Broadway Avenue, which runs in front of Crossway, and he passed the fire station. Flying high atop a ladder was a large American flag that lifted his spirits.

“It’s not just the flag, our God is high and lifted up and He’s in charge,” Leveridge said.

That gives him encouragement as he shepherds his congregation and community. His church is hosting Samaritan’s Purse as we help with cleanup.

“These people are tough. I believe they’ll get up, clean up, and get back in the game. It’s going to take some time, but I don’t believe they’ll quit. But it’s by the power of God that we endure.”

Teams of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers pray in and pray out of every day of their service to hurting homeowners.

U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of disaster relief volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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