Prayer, money are immediate victims’ needs

The scope of the tornado damage in Moore, Okla., has local managers of emergency relief agencies which respond to natural disasters and faith-based organizations prepared to assist should they be needed.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross are on the ground in Moore, where the violent tornado tore through homes, a hospital and two elementary schools killing at least 24 people and injuring at least 240 more.

It was not exactly clear whether anyone from the local chapter of the Northcentral Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, 320 E. Third St., would be sent.

However, it appears at this point that money is the one commodity that is most needed and is being accepted by the local Salvation Army, 457 Market St., according to information given on behalf of Capt. Chas Engel.

While Engel could not be reached Tuesday, a Salvation Army spokesman said Engel was told that checks signifying “Oklahoma tornado relief” would be accepted and forwarded to assist.

Non-perishable food and water supplies are difficult to transport and donations are perhaps the best way to get the people of Oklahoma help, the Salvation Army spokesman said.

At the United Churches of Lycoming County, 202 E. Third St., the Rev. Gwen Bernstine, the organization’s executive director, said it might be too soon for the faith-based communities.

“There is a possibility, but we don’t know where and when,” she said.

The disaster is in the stage with emergency management, search and rescue and recover teams combing through wreckage.

What churches can provide likely is to be needed down the road, she said.

“Just as in the midst of a flood,” Bernstine said, “one might need clothes, but families don’t need the world sending them clothes because people don’t have a lot of space to put masses of materials. It will be a while before they call for anything because they are trying to get the first responders in there.”

Coincidently, the organization recently completed a blanket and emergency kit collection drive. Kits include items for people to clean up and maintain hygiene during emergencies and some school supplies.

If the need arises, the churches typically work through Church World Service, according to Bernstine.

Most charitable donations are channeled to the correct individuals through programs such as One Great Hour of Sharing.

Most Protestant churches that have denominational discretionary funds accept interdenominational discretionary funds, she said.

“When a church knows it has a need it will access it through Church World Service or another organization,” Bernstine said. “That’s how people get blankets and kits.”

Other denominations also get involved in relief efforts, including Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran Disaster Relief and United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR.

Bernstine said she listened as the mayor of Moore who has asked for prayers as much as anything material.

PPL also was not called into this one.

“We do get called to support mutual aid situations, but we were not contacted,” said Teri McBride, PPL regional affairs director. “Our crews have gone quite far afield and we supported New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina and more recently with Hurricane Sandy,” she said. During Superstorm Sandy in October, PPL had the assistance of mutual crews and when the jobs were wrapped up and power restored, went with other utilities to assist states with longer periods of recovery time.

PPL has an affiliate company based in Kentucky that would be closer and chances are it will send skilled workers if required, however, the tornado that struck Moore damaged a more narrower area than that of a hurricane with far less power outages reported.

Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said he would meet with his administrative team this morning to see whether the city employees would be willing to donate anything to the tornado relief funds.