Millions raised for Oklahoma storm victims, but where will it go?

The vast majority of money raised by charitable organizations is being held in reserve for a second wave of need that officials expect to arise in coming months after insurance settlement checks are cashed and federal emergency assistance ends.
by Randy Ellis and Phillip O'Connor Modified: July 21, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: July 21, 2013
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Social services providers know from experience that suicides normally increase about eight months after disasters, along with things like spousal abuse and child abuse, Raglow said. In the case of the spring storms, that type of behavior would be projected to peak around Christmas, already a high-stress time when suicides typically increase, he said.

Long-term needs

The United Way still has about $11 million in its tornado relief fund. That includes more than $6 million in donations and pledges from the Blake Shelton benefit concert. It's still not certain how much money a Toby Keith concert raised. All of the concert's bills must be paid before any proceeds can be donated to the relief fund.

“It takes awhile,” said Hampton, the United Way executive.

The Red Cross expects to have about $15 million available to help communities with their long-term needs. Agency officials are meeting with area leaders to determine just what those might be, spokesman Ken Garcia said.

Several people expressed gratitude for the help they received following the storms from volunteer agencies.

Jason Davis, 39, who lost his home near Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, applauded the work of the Red Cross.

“I'll give props where props are due,'' he said. “They came by — it seemed like every thirty minutes — saying, ‘You need this? You need that?' They were great.”

In Cleveland County, where about 500 houses were damaged or destroyed, most during the May 19 tornado, the Red Cross recently sent outreach teams back into the area to search for anyone who might still need assistance, said George Mauldin, the county's emergency management director. That came after reports that some people were still living in tents.

“If there's anybody staying in a tent all the time, we couldn't find them,'' he said.

Meanwhile, church and community groups continue to help with debris removal and other needs.

“I have nothing but praise for the volunteer organizations, Mauldin said.

Heather Thompson, 40, also lost her Moore home in the May 20 tornado. She remembers feeling almost overwhelmed by the outpouring of aid in those first few days.

“It was almost like a supermarket popped up on every corner,” she said.

Thompson also received Red Cross help to pay for gasoline, a faith-based organization demolished her home for free and three other groups have offered to remove her slab at no cost. This week, she visited FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in south Oklahoma City to get an update on a Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loan she hopes to use to buy a new house.

“There has been such a great pool of resources,'' Thompson said. “I know there's going to be some lapses. But this time, they were prepared.”

Regardless of how the money is spent or at what pace, aid agencies expect to be criticized for their response.

“Disasters are a very trying time for everyone,'' said Garcia, the Red Cross spokesman. “Everybody would like to snap their fingers and have everything be fine. When it comes to recovery, it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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