HILO — Monday’s terrible tornado in Oklahoma sure got the attention of isle science teacher Talan Lambert this week. Lambert has lots of family in Moore, Oklahoma, where the twister did much of it deadly damage.
Lambert, who teaches high school science at Liberty Christian Academy in Keaau, described anxious moments Monday sharing text messages and phone calls with her immediate family in Wyoming, who were in direct contact with her Oklahoma aunts, uncles and cousins soon after the disaster struck.
“Our family is really stressed,” said Lambert, a University of Hawaii at Hilo marine sciences graduate.
Twenty-four people were killed, including 10 children, while six adults are still unaccounted for, the AP reported Wednesday. As many as 13,000 homes also were destroyed by the tornado in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb of about 55,000 residents.
One of Lambert’s cousins, a trauma room nurse, was missing for nearly four hours and family members feared the worst. But she had been at a physical therapy session where everyone jammed into closets for shelter during the tornado. When the danger passed, she and others went outside to help and found a woman in labor in a shopping mall parking lot. Lambert’s cousin stayed with the woman until she could be safely taken to a hospital, then contacted her own family to assure them she was OK.
A younger cousin attended Plaza Towers Elementary School, where he and other students crowded hallways and bathrooms to protect themselves from the tornado’s fury. Seven students were killed at the school, which was demolished, but Lambert’s cousin survived.
Another cousin, whose home was leveled by a tornado in 1999, suffered “quite a significant amount of damage” this time, Lambert said. An aunt’s battered home was standing, though still without power and water on Wednesday, she said.
Anyone who wants to help should donate to the American Red Cross, Lambert said. “My aunts and cousins all work in the hospital system. They say give to the Red Cross. The money will go to the right places.”
Many are scrambling for shelter in the wake of the tornado. “Everyone’s moving in with the ones who still have a roof over their heads,” Lambert said.
The American Red Cross is working around the clock to help people in Oklahoma with shelters, food, water and supplies, said an ARC statement on Wednesday, and specialized Red Cross disaster teams will be helping for weeks to come as people in Oklahoma recover.
“Here in Hawaii, our thoughts and sympathy are with all those impacted by these tornadoes,” said Coralie Matayoshi, chief executive officer of the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross sent almost 30 emergency response vehicles to distribute food and relief supplies and more are on alert, the Red Cross reported. Two Southern Baptist Convention kitchens and kitchen support trailers are also joining the relief effort with the ability to serve tens of thousands of meals a day.
Barney Sheffield, Red Cross disaster services coordinator on Hawaii Island, said local Red Cross volunteers have not yet been dispatched to Oklahoma. “They’re trying to handle it locally,” he said. “If they can’t, they’ll ask for help.
“We’re on standby,” Sheffield said. “People are ready to go but we’ve heard nothing from national.”
Former Puna residents Nancy and John Fryhover moved to Moore about six months ago. Their home was relatively undamaged and they described their experience on Punaweb, a local Internet bulletin board.
“Closet call for us in over 40 years,” Nancy said. “Seems we have picked a spot to live in a very destructive path for weather. We are back in our house as of last night and can see the helicopters, etc., from our back porch. The power of these storms are unbelievable but when you see the twisted cars and leveled homes you get it.
“I have no doubt that this community will rebuild,” Fryhover said. “The people that run this town are amazing and it’s sad because of all the work they have done to make this area great.”
Lambert, who has lived in Hawaii for 10 years, recalls visiting her relatives in Moore many times as a kid and knows the strength of their character, valuing “life over valuables,” she said. And in this particular time of disaster, life among her loved ones, at least, prevailed.
Those who would like to help people affected by natural disasters and other crises can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.