After a tornado left a 1.3 mile wide and 17 mile long trail of devastation through Moore, Okla., two area residents decided to join Operation Blessing International to offer relief.
Todd Boardman, of Jamestown, owner of Boardman Construction, and his son, Todd Jr., a 2006 graduate of Bethel Baptist Christian Academy, spent a week working to alleviate some of the destruction left in the wake of the May 20 twister.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, National Weather Service, the tornado touched down Southeast of Moore, and in less than 40 minutes had pummelled a highly populated area of the city. Two elementary schools, a middle school, a medical facility, a movie theatre and suburban areas were on the direct path of the tornado.
A local father and son traveled to Moore, Okla., to assist in tornado relief efforts
The National Weather Service reported the tornado an EF5, which is the strongest category of tornadoes measured. It packed a wallop, with winds reaching up to 210 miles per hour at certain points.
CNN reported that according to the state medical examiners office, the death toll reached at least 24 people, including nine children. Moore, where the Boardman's spent the majority of their week, was the hardest hit location.
Todd Boardman and his son, Todd Jr., are pictured above in Moore, Okla., as volunteers for Operation Blessing’s disaster relief efforts.
Destruction in Moore, Okla.
A destroyed structure in Moore, Okla.
Volunteers of Operation Blessing in Moore, Okla.
A memorial was created in Moore, Okla., for Plaza Towers Elementary School victims.
The Boardmans began their 16.5-hour drive to Moore on June 5, and upon their arrival they noticed a strange smell and copious amounts of debris.
"We put our windows down as we came to the path of destruction, and the first thing we noticed was the smell - it was musty, very musty," said Todd Boardman. "We started to venture up and down the streets to look at the destruction the tornado had done. Some of the areas had trees down, shingles missing on houses and areas that had nothing left at all."
As the two continued exploring, they drove through an intersection that had a stop sign in the middle of the road, due to a traffic light not being operational. They also drove past Moore Medical Center, which they said was completely destroyed. A little further down the road they saw two men in matching yellow shirts who were with the Southern Baptist Convention, one of whom was a Chaplain.
"After a few stories they guided us up the street to where the school (Plaza Towers Elementary School) used to be," said Boardman. "The only thing left of the school was a 30-foot wall with the panther mascot painted on it. The rest of the school was a pile of rubble being scooped up and put into trucks. A fence around the property turned into a memorial for those killed in the school. It's a miracle that more were not killed or injured in the tornado."
The Boardmans continued driving around taking pictures until they arrived at the Southern Baptist Church where OBI partnered to house many volunteers. According to Boardman, the church property consisted of 80 acres of land, a large church building, a separate building housing an air-conditioned gym, commercial kitchen, locker rooms, a weight room, cafe and dining hall. The grounds also had a baseball and football stadium with lights, press box and large bleachers. All of this was situated by an Air Force base.
"A retired Navy head chef made good food for breakfast and dinner every day," said Boardman. " The guys slept in the gym on cots that were furnished, and the ladies had a separate area in the building. There were showers in the locker room, and a separate trailer with very nice clean showers was in the parking lot, which was provided by Southern Baptist Convention. The staff for these would greet you and ask you to join them in the chairs. They would ask you the events of the day and offer you a beverage from the cooler. Upon a shower opening up, a volunteer would clean the vanity and shower then offer you a clean towel and wash cloth - you can't beat southern hospitality."
After breakfast at 6:30 every day, the Boardman's and other volunteers would go to Highland Baptist Church where OBI set up their command center. There was a large R.V. for the staff to operate out of, and trailers full of tools and supplies.
"Groups of eight-10 would break up and select work orders," said Boardman. "Each day could be something different: chain saw work, raking, separating personal possessions, roof tarps, carrying furniture to the curb and always lending a listening ear to the many people we encountered.
"We worked for an 81-year-old lady whose insurance company canceled her policy two weeks before the tornado," continued Boardman. "She still works eight-hour shifts for pennies every day. She said she cries every time she comes back to the house. The bricks that got torn off the house whipped in the wind and were driven through the roof and the kitchen ceiling not far from where she was huddled."
The Boardmans also worked on a house for a young couple with eight children, six of whom were biological. Their roof was tarped, trees cut and the inside of the house was empty. The kids lived in filth, said Boardman.
"The mother shared with me that she had gotten the 3-year-old from the girl's mother when she was only 1," said Boardman. "She told us that the biological mother used to put her in the washing machine. After the 3-year-old had experienced the tornado, she said it sounded like the washing machine - it was heart wrenching."
On Sunday night Boardman and his son sat outside and watched a storm roll in. The locals told the Boardmans that they sit on their porch and watch tornadoes go by.
"Soon a tornado warning went up just southwest of us," said Boardman. "The clouds got dark and lightning flashed from as high as you could see all the way to the ground - it was great. I have always enjoyed watching storms. By the time it got to us it was after midnight and had died down. It was a beautiful light show."
According to Boardman, the best thing people can do to enjoy a relief trip is to leave their expectations at the door and be willing to do anything that they are asked to do.
"After supper we'd clean the floors, pick up trash or whatever was needed," said Boardman. "I served in the food line at supper, even after feeling drained from the 97-degree heat. I spotted my son, Todd Jr., picking up cigarette butts on the church grounds. You do things to serve others and not because you have to be asked. It is what makes your life richer."
Boardman said the time to say goodbye was hard, but that he planned to stay in touch with all the new friends he and Todd Jr. made. He even had the chance to visit his first grandchild in Indiana on their way back home.
"Life is great," said Boardman. "Go on and take an adventure."
OBI is a nonprofit humanitarian organization with a mission of demonstrating God's love by alleviating human need and suffering in the United States and around the world.
Beginning in 1978, OBI provides strategic relief in 23 countries on a daily basis. The organization implements programs that include hunger relief, clean water, orphan care, medical aid, disaster relief and community development.
According to Boardman, working with OBI was an amazing experience, which he'd definitely consider doing again. The organization made volunteering easy, fun and accessible to anyone who has the drive.
"It's not working to have, it's working to give," said Boardman.
For more information visit www.ob.org.