NORMAN — Over a long weekend in conference rooms for a church meeting at the Embassy Suites in Norman, it was easy to forget the destruction that landed a few miles north in Moore last spring when a huge tornado hit — again.
But then, it was easy to forget zipping right through Moore on Interstate 35 to get here.
And it was easy to forget over the nearly five months of everyday life that has unfolded since May 20.
It's just so easy to forget.
So the Rev. Richard Norman's message a week ago today at the annual meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ was a surprising, sobering reminder:
Now is definitely not the time to forget Moore — or south Oklahoma City, Shawnee, Newcastle, Carney or Little Axe or anywhere else whose turn it was this year to carry the full weight of the heavy reputation, “Tornado Alley.”
Norman, coordinator of disaster response for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, updated United Church of Christ ministers and lay leaders from Oklahoma and Kansas on storm recovery and the work of Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Oklahoma VOAD is part of National VOAD, which dates to recovery from Hurricane Camille in 1969. VOAD brings together voluntary organizations to help improve disaster response.
From May 19 to May 31, Norman said, 23 people were killed and 377 people injured in tornadoes north, south, east and west of Oklahoma City, in rural and urban areas.
Some 15,000 families and individuals registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with 40 percent, about 6,000, uninsured or underinsured, he said.
As usual, he said, the poor, the elderly and the physically and mentally challenged were hardest hit.
The tornadoes were just the first disaster. The second one came after public attention drifted.
“Eight weeks after the storm, volunteers began to go home, or go on to the next disaster,” Norman said, and that's usually what happens as life goes on around a disaster area. But here's something you don't know unless you're involved: He said they left behind 3,371 work orders underway or incomplete — and some $84 million in unmet needs.
And the immediate response was just the first response. The second one is settling in for the long haul, he said, challenging churches to step up: “When the church does not do its part, most of these families do not recover. They're forgotten because life is busy and we move on.”
Partnerships with VOAD and its volunteer construction management programs help communities with long-term recovery. It takes local churches and church groups with ecumenical relationships and state and local governments to keep recovery ongoing, Norman said.
“All disasters begin in a local community and all disasters end in a local community,” he said, noting that VOAD takes a helping role, not a leading role. It's not unusual for VOAD to be working with families, and a community, three or four years or longer after a disaster — and Oklahoma has a few major disasters every year.
For more information on VOAD and its local, state and national partners, go to okvoad.communityos.org/cms/home or www.facebook.com/OklahomaVOAD.
For churches' obligations in times of disaster, go to Luke 10:27.