Local pair spends two weeks in Oklahoma helping after tornado

Sharon Laupp stands next to a van damaged by the May 20 tornado in Moore, OK, with debris from buildings scattered in the background.
Sharon Laupp stands next to a van damaged by the May 20 tornado in Moore, OK, with debris from buildings scattered in the background. Photo provided.

Originally published June 13, 2013.

Even as the community of Moore, OK, was reeling from the death and destruction inflicted by a tornado that leveled its town on May 20, a small army of volunteers was being assembled to help ease the pain.

That army included two Huntington women - Sharon Laupp and Jodi Kilty, both retired nurses - who spent two weeks in Oklahoma as part of a Red Cross disaster response team.

For Laupp, the devastation in Oklahoma was nothing new; she's been on similar missions in a dozen or so states since first volunteering for the program in 2005.

For Kilty, it was an initiation; she was on her first deployment since volunteering late last year.

Both were awed by the damage the tornado left behind.

"Just total destruction; everything was totally gone," Laupp says. "They could salvage very little."

"It was overwhelming," Kilty says. "I've never seen anything like it in my life."

"Sometimes there were parts of buildings left; sometimes it was scraped clear down to the bottom," Laupp says. "You had to be in a shelter or you didn't make it."

Although they weren't paired together, both Kilty and Laupp did similar work while in Oklahoma - visiting with residents to see what they needed, delivering food and other supplies and administering first aid.

Laupp, who arrived four days after the tornado hit, sometimes accompanied the food truck as it made its rounds in Norman and Moore.

"I met with people when they got their meals to see if they had any unmet needs I could help with," she says, in addition to helping serve meals and deliver food.

"Mainly, I did what they call outreach," Kilty says. "I was paired with another nurse, and we went door to door."

After the neighborhoods were blocked off, Kilty continued to offer first aid, including changing bandages and dressings, and handed out meals from a stationary site.

Laupp's tasks included performing eye washes to clean insulation and debris from people's eyes; caring for puncture wounds caused by stepping on nails; and getting people to the health department for tetanus shots.

"I probably saw 100 people a day," she says.

She helped people replace eyeglasses, wheelchairs, prescriptions and other medical needs, connecting them with resources that could procure those items.

The biggest need, Laupp says, was "comfort. Just that you would listen to them. And so many of them would say, ‘Others have it so much worse than me.'"

"I was so impressed with the people," Kilty says. "They lost everything, and they were so thankful to us. They are just very, very strong."

The threat of more tornadoes was always present.

"Two times we spent an hour and a half, two hours in a shelter in a hotel," Laupp says. "Three days out of 10, we were called in early because of the weather. You don't want to be out on the road in a tornado. It was kind of scary when the tornado warnings went off."

One woman Laupp encountered as she was going through what was left of her home offered her some daylilies from her garden.

"I mailed those home," Laupp says. "I'll plant them for her here."

The Red Cross had set up its kitchen at a large Baptist church, where the funeral for a young boy killed in the tornado was held. As the funeral procession left the church, she says, "we all lined the curb, kind of like an honor guard for him."

Kilty spent her first two days in Oklahoma near the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died when the tornado hit.

"I met several children who were in the school during the tornado and know some of the students who were killed," Kilty says. Those children, she says, seemed to be doing "remarkably well."

She treated one girl who breathed in dust while she was trapped under the rubble in the school.

"She talked about her friends in heaven," Kilty says.

Laupp says the number of people willing to help was heartwarming.

"There was so many people that responded," she says, including youth groups, sports teams, churches of all denominations and even the American Humane Society that set up animal shelters amid the rubble.

"The thing that struck me the most was how many people came out to help," Laupp says. "It was just beautiful."

Laupp made her first trip as a Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"When I heard about Katrina, I thought, gee, I'd like to help," she says.

She took advantage of the classes that are offered to prepare volunteers to help in a disaster, Laupp says.

Kilty says she started taking classes shortly after retiring last October, about the same time as she joined the board of the local Red Cross chapter.

"I have a suitcase under my extra bed with all my shirts," Laupp says, making it easier to leave on short notice.

When the Red Cross calls, she says, the volunteers have 24 hours to pack and arrive at the destination. The Red Cross provides transportation and all of the volunteer's needs.

"You always have the chance to say yes or no," she says.

The Red Cross will rotate volunteers in and out of the disaster site "until it's determined we don't need to be there any more," Laupp says.

The departure of Red Cross volunteers doesn't mean everything is back to normal.

"We're just there in the recovery phase," she says. "These people have years still to go."

Laupp says this trip may be her last - but, then again, maybe not.

"Something bad will happen and I'll think, I gotta go."

Complete caption: Sharon Laupp stands next to a van damaged by the May 20 tornado in Moore, OK, with debris from buildings scattered in the background. Laupp was one of two Huntington women who were part of a Red Cross disaster relief team sent to help residents of the area.