Granite Staters lend a hand to Oklahoma tornado victims
Nearly a month after tornadoes struck Oklahoma, the devastation remains.
Wood and furniture clump together where families had once snuggled on couches and watched television. Debris and broken glass litter pastures where farm animals used to graze. Mangled stone and merchandise sit where chain stores used to keep people fed and clothed.
That is what 30 members of a Manchester-based church saw when they spent most of last week helping the survivors of last month's tornadoes reclaim their lives.
"I think they're in shock here still. They don't know where to start," said Lisa Mazur, the outreach director for Manchester Christian Church. Mazur organized the effort.
Church members paid their own fares to fly to Oklahoma to spend four days providing Granite State manpower to the heavily hit communities of Moore and Shawnee.
One day, Mazur helped a woman pack up her personal belongings and valuables from a badly damaged house that will eventually have to be razed.
The next day, she helped remove glass and debris from a pasture so a farmer could bring his livestock home.
One day, Bill Cote, of Manchester, helped put tarps over damaged roofs. The next he worked on pasture cleanup.
"They're all so grateful and so appreciative," Cote said. "I like to think that if something happened at my home they'd help out."
The trip was arranged through Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to people suffering from war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine.
The 30 volunteers flew into Oklahoma City on Tuesday, and went to work Wednesday.
They worked in 90- and 100-degree heat alongside volunteers from across the country. They had food supplied by Samaritan's Purse. They slept on air mattresses in church basements.
Mazur said she was amused by the reaction when people found out the group was from New Hampshire.
"A lot of people ask, 'Where is that? What state is it in?'" she said.
The 30 wore T-shirts printed with the name Manchester Christian Church. When homeowners asked for a prayer, a spontaneous prayer circle followed.
"They feel so alone in this process," Mazur said. "We're just trying to throw love on people, give lots of hugs."
Cote said the most striking scene he saw was the damage to a mobile home park in Shawnee. Frames of trailers had been tossed 200 feet and twisted into non-sensical shapes.
"You walk up and think, wow, wind can do this? It's crazy," he said.
Mazur said one can nearly envision the 4-mile wide path of destruction that tornadoes visited upon Moore. In those spots, all that's left of where homes and hospitals once stood are cement pads or foundations.
"What if this happened to Elliot (Hospital)? What if this happened to CMC? We were thinking, what would we do?" she said Thursday. "We seem so far away from Manchester right now. We seem like we're in another country almost."
Mazur said she used to work for a software company as a project manager, establishing a branch office in Europe at one point. Then she volunteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"It changed everything," she said, "All I want to do now is to help people and mobilize others to do it."