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Recovery Efforts Continue In The Aftermath Of Devastating Oklahoma Tornadoes

On May 20, 2013, an EF5 tornado with wind speeds in excess of 200 mph tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 25 people, including several school children and destroying more than 1,100 homes. The immediate response was quick and came from all corners of the globe. But, as time passes, the horific images begin to fade and for most people, life continues.

Not if your life was ripped apart by the winds that day.

While government support continues, asistance from the non-profit sector has diminished considerably in the nearly nine months since the storm. One organization which remains committed to rebuilding lives is the United Methodist Disaster Response program. Funds raised by The OU Club of Houston and the Houston chapter of Texas Exes--totaling more than $7,500--were donated to UMDR.

Kevin Walker is an OU grad and the project coordinator for UMDR's ongoing assistance efforts. We talked with him and associate Sarah Nichols about the work being done by UMDR.

Q. What is United Methodist Disaster Response?

A. United Methodist Disaster response has been around for decades. It is the mission of our disaster response offices to provide immediate/emergency recovery as well as long-term response. We are known for staying in disaster areas until the LAST TASK is completed. We stay until there is no more work to be done.

Q. At what point did UMDR become engaged in efforts to provide recovery from the Oklahoma tornadoes?

A. Our UMDR office opened the day after the May 20th storm. Kevin and I were hired 3 days after the storm (Kevin started immediately with volunteer help and I came on in July) By September UMDR had three active Volunteer Reception Centers (VRCs): Moore, Shawnee, and El Reno. We serve EVERY affected community from the May 2013 storms.

(Note: Walker and Nichols are two of a staff of dedicated professionals working for UMDR in Oklahoma, which also includes two more OU grads, Luke Pratt and Scotty Jackson. Walker, Nichols, Pratt and Johnson are all under the age of 30.)

Q. Nine months after the storms, where does the recovery process stand?

A. The recovery process in every affected area is ahead of expectations. Experienced and expert disaster responders from other major tornado disasters have visited and ALL have commented that our communities are 3-4 months ahead of similar disaster areas. Because of the scope of these storms, the work is diverse. We are still clearing debris in rural areas due to the far reach of the debris cloud throughout those communities. In both rural and more populated communities we are putting teams to work doing repairs of all shapes and sizes (roofing/sheetrock/flood repair/etc...) We have plenty of work to do, but we are ahead of the game!

Q. What are some ways that outside funding continues to support the recovery efforts?

A. Funding sent to United Methodist Disaster Response goes directly to community members affected by these storms. These Funds go toward the purchase of supplies for the construction and repairs on homes that were affected by the May 2013 Storms. These homes are primarily of those who are under-insured/uninsured.

Q. As volunteer/program coordinators, what have been some of the highlights of your involvement on a personal basis?

A. Kevin has been a member of the Moore community his whole life. I have been invested in the Moore community (through church) for the past decade. We both have enough personal stories/anecdotes to fill a book (and it's only been 9 months!) I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we have been deeply blessed by the outpouring of support from our volunteers. We have welcomed volunteer teams and individuals from all over the United States, Canada, and Australia! Each team seems to be more hard working and passionate than the last. We're probably not suppose to have favorite teams, but we definitely do- any team that is ready for WHATEVER we throw at them with energy and understanding / teams that recognize that Kevin and I are 'survivors' of the storm in our own right / teams that develop deep connections to the community and continue to check in on homeowners and us / etc... I really could go on. We absolutely love pairing those who are willing to help with those who need it most.

(Note: In March, UMDR will be working with volunteer teams of college students from across the country who will be spending their spring break to support recovery efforts in Oklahoma.)

Q. Are there ways people can still help?

A. Bring a team! If you are willing and able, go to our website ( and start planning a team mission to come see us. Donations are also always welcome. This disaster initially received a lot of media attention and raised several million dollars, but the scale of the response has been larger and more expensive than anyone could have imagined in the early days and months. (It always is.) The three best ways to support these communities are 1) leading a team to participate in on the ground response, 2) donating funds to our work, and 3) keeping these communities and those supporting them in your thoughts and prayers.

See the photo gallery here.

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