By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Harbor Baptist Church in Payne Springs pastor, George Yarger recently returned from Moore, Okla., where he was part of a disaster relief team for a week.
The May 20 EF5 tornado traveled 17 miles on the ground in a little more than half an hour, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Norman, Okla. The storm initially touched down 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of Newcastle, Okla. at 2:56 p.m., and dissipated 4.8 miles east of Moore at 3:26 p.m. The Oklahoma governor reported 24 killed, including nine children and 324 injured in a metropolitan area of 55,000.
“I got involved with HAM radios because they needed people trained in emergency communications,” Yarger said. That was Katrina. Since then, Yarger has taught others how to operate HAM radios in emergency situations during workshops and weekend trainings.
However, since Yarger is relatively a young man at age 48, they needed him to operate a Bobcat in Moore. He was part of a three-man Skid Steer Team under the direction of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief ministry. They left here May 23 and returned a week later.
“Our job was to share the love of Christ. I just did it from the seat of a Bobcat,” he laughed.
A second team member acted as the spotter and a third served as chaplain.
Yarger’s job entailed moving heavy debris, like a bedroom wall, so a resident (police officer) could retrieve his wallet, badge and gun from the top dresser drawer.
The spotter was to ensure safety and to spot items that a homeowner might want to retrieve; such as memorabilia, photo albums, safes, intact collections and medications.
“People were happy to get back that mattered to them,” Yarger said. “I enjoyed that a great deal. It was like a treasure hunt.”
Once a home site had been picked over, Yarger would clear the slab by moving everything else to the curb. The team was able to do about a house a day, he said.
The city dispatched huge dumpsters and a track-ho to pick up the debris and put it in the dinosaur-size dumpster. “A house can fill one of these pretty quickly,” he said.
“Residents seemed to gain hope from seeing the slab cleared off, as if they could start over again,” Yarger observed. “They weren’t at all worried about their loss, they were glad they and their loved ones had survived.”
At first they said they didn’t want any of their stuff that made up the debris, as if they viewed it as cursed or they felt relieved of not having to own it anymore, Yarger said. However, that would change, as the team would uncover a sentimental object, school award or important photo or document. “One woman got all tearful when we found a small box that held a collection of baby teeth from her children’s growing-up years,” he said.
Work stopped and the team had to clear off when President Barack Obama made a tour of the devastation, May 26. “We saw Air Force One fly over twice, before he returned to Washington,” Yarger said. At first, Yarger found it unsettling and inconvenient to have to clear out so Obama could come in and said he understands now why President Bush didn’t tour Katrina, citing that it would just hamper relief efforts.
Yarger recalls one family of renters who were eager to see the rebuilding process begin as their landlord said he would rebuild and that they would get a say in the furnishings and design choices.
Yarger said his team bedded down at a Baptist church in the area and started their day at 7:30 a.m. and ended it at around suppertime.
“There were lots of volunteers there. It seemed like every fifth person I met was from Joplin, Mo. the site of another devastating tornado in 2011. He told of another couple from Norfolk, Va. The man had attended Biarwood Elementary in Moore as a kid. “They came with a rake and a shovel, so we let them help us look for stuff,” Yarger said.
When it was time to leave, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with the enormity of what’s still left to be done, he said. “But to each family we ministered to, it meant something to them (that we came). Love will always make a difference.”
Local pastors help with relief efforts in Moore, Okla.
Posted by : June 10, 2013| On :
By Pearl Cantrell