MOORE, Okla. -- The First Baptist Church of Moore has experienced hard times before. In 1999, it was next door to the disaster zone after what became known as the May 3 tornado.
As it did then, the church has become a sprawling relief hub.
Inside the enormous red-brick building, which FEMA designated a disaster recovery center, volunteers and donors have amassed almost anything a person could need: rows and rows of donated shoes; tables stacked with children’s books and toys; piles of food tins, water bottles and clothing. The church even has its own medical table and shopping carts for survivors with essentials such as toiletries, diapers and food so they can take what they need.
“It came in in droves,” Joey Dean, a student pastor at the church, said of the donations. “You have no idea.”
A comfort dog wandered the halls Thursday as volunteers bustled around, collecting and organizing supplies as they were dropped off.
As many as 40 survivors stayed at the church on the first night, using air mattresses and cots that were, like much of everything here, speedily donated after Monday’s tornado. The number has dwindled as Moore’s newly homeless arrange to stay with family and friends or settle in hotels.
The problem for many who took refuge at the church, Dean said, has been making arrangements beyond the immediate future. “Because so many people got displaced, you’ll get a number [for temporary housing] and it’ll fill up quickly.”
Jerry Cavenee, 62, arrived to pick up food and supplies for his two sons, who suffered a “100% loss” when the twister hit their home behind the Warren Movie Theater. They were among the 2,200 Oklahomans that Gov. Mary Fallin said had registered for aid from FEMA, an experience that Cavenee described as positive.
Much of the early recovery, however, has been a struggle.
“When you don’t have a roof, and you get one rain, you’re done,” Cavenee said. “The biggest problems are the rubberneckers. We’re trying to get in there, and there are long lines to get in” on the roads.
On Wednesday, the three men left nearby Bridge Creek at 9 a.m. and arrived at their home six hours later -- and then security officials wouldn’t allow them to bring in their trailer.
“It took a long time to move that stuff. Meanwhile, the rain’s coming,” Cavenee said.
Residents filed for more than 4,000 insurance claims alone Wednesday, according to Robert P. Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute. Millions of dollars have poured into the community already from insurance adjusters examining homes, he said, and residents getting checks from large insurance buses with portable printers inside.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said 1,500 agents had been cleared to work on the disaster recovery, and residents had already filed 6,700 claims. Doak said he planned to ask for retired insurance brokers from out of state to help with the insurance effort; adjusters are allowed 90-day emergency permits to work on the disaster.
“My plane was full of adjusters; my hotel was full of adjusters,” said Hartwig, who flew in from Chicago.
Michael Copeland, director of the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s anti-fraud unit, kept watch over the parking lot where the insurance agents were working. The disaster hit close to home for him, literally: He lives in Moore, just outside the disaster zone.
“We’re going to have to have people come from the outside because we can’t rebuild on our own,” Copeland said of the insurance army.
The church will host at least three funerals in the coming days -- one Friday and two Saturday, Dean said. The church also will have its usual Sunday services and Bible studies.
“The goal is to get back to normal as soon as possible, with the reality that there’s still going to be stuff in our parking lot,” Dean said.