Cumberland Times-News

Local News

June 28, 2013

Head Red Cross chaplain discusses Okla. tornado

CUMBERLAND — Before Paul Demers began counseling victims of the tornado that hammered Moore, Okla., on May 21, the head American Red Cross chaplain drove him through the most damaged area.

“The hospital was gone,” Demers said. “Homes were destroyed. Trucks were upside down or inside houses. People were walking around, dazed, trying to find some of their possessions. He wanted me to see that so I would know what the people I would counsel had gone through.”

It was June 7, the first of 12 days that Demers’ skills as a chaplain would be needed to help families not only think straight, but work through the daunting task of starting life over, going from table to table to speak with agencies and organizations that could help.

A Cumberland resident, Demers has been a full-time chaplain at Western Correctional Institution since 2009. He also provides those services at Western Maryland Regional Medical Center every Friday beginning at 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Demers has been a chaplain with the Salvation Army in Toronto and, as such, spent three weeks at the World Trade Center ground zero in Feb. 2002, just months after the twin towers were destroyed in the terrorist attack.

“With 95 percent of the people (in Oklahoma), all I had to say was ‘good morning’ and they wanted to talk,” Demers said.

Demers was in Moore because he had gotten an email from Red Cross describing the need for chaplains as “desperate.”

He joined 14 other chaplains from various parts of the country and from myriad denominations as part of the Red Cross Spiritual Care Team. On June 18 he would be the last visiting chaplain to leave Moore when those duties were turned over to local mental health professionals.

Demers was, in a real sense, a greeter of victims at a registration center, their first point of contact to begin putting their lives back together.

“I sat, listened, got Kleenex and bottled water, held hands and prayed with them,” Demers said. “In all humility, I believe that my presence was helpful.”

The tornado was two miles wide with winds well in excess of 200 mph and traveled on the ground for 17 miles. Two dozen lives were lost. More than 200 people were injured. More than 100 people were rescued alive from beneath debris.

A woman evacuated from the hospital before it was destroyed gave birth in a nearby movie theater.

About 20,000 families were displaced in the city of 56,000 residents.

“At the registration center, children were everywhere, most of them crying,” Demers said. “Candies and teddy bears were a big help, but also the comfort dogs that the kids and even the adults would pet.”

A lot of animals were killed by the tornado.

“I talked for four hours with one man who had lost 15 show horses,” Demers said.

Demers said is was pleasing that several residents who returned to the center during his stay would specifically request that he be their counselor.

“A call would be put out ‘which one is the Rev. Paul’ and somebody else would say ‘the bald one from Maryland,’” Demers said. “Many of the people seemed astonished that a chaplain would come all the way from Maryland and I told them to thank the Red Cross for that.”

Demers worked the registration center each day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. His recall of the massive recovery effort becomes less of a swirl because of a daily journal in which he wrote. He has a handwritten note from a 12-year-old girl whose family he helped. She writes that she wants to become active in the Red Cross because of the help that was received.

Demers believes the spiritual care team’s work in Oklahoma was successful, facilitated greatly by the Red Cross’ battlefield administration plan.

“It’s five-star,” he said.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

1
Text Only
Local News
  •  Easter grass Easter grass

    Kamryn Rice, 7, of Flintstone, finds and bags a plastic egg during Cumberland’s annual Easter Egg Hunt Saturday afternoon at Constitution Park. Hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with students from Frostburg State University’s Recreation and Parks Management program and the 4-H Youth of Allegany County, the afternoon also included games, relay races, face painting, temporary tattoos, arts and crafts, and a petting zoo sponsored by the 4-H Hare Raiser Club, as well as a visit from the Easter Bunny. The eggs contained candy and other treats.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Business community wary of minimum wage increases

    CUMBERLAND — Allegany County businesses are certain to be impacted by the increase in Maryland’s minimum wage, set to reach $10.10 an hour by July 2018 under a law championed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

    April 20, 2014

  • Tipped workers left behind in pay hike action

    ANNAPOLIS — Many minimum wage workers will be getting a raise now that a hike to Maryland’s wage has been signed into law. But while advocates are ascribing the increase as a win, there’s a bitter aftertaste for one group that was left behind.

    April 20, 2014

  • Views vary among Americans when it comes to hourly rate

    CUMBERLAND — Even among those who have worked minimum wage jobs, views on the minimum wage can differ.
    “Minimum wage has to exist. There is no question there, so whatever it is, it will be called ‘minimum wage’. But it should not be below a living wage,” said Bonita Quick of Cumberland.

    April 20, 2014

  • Income guideline change will increase WIC recipients

    KEYSER, W.Va. — Raised income eligibility guidelines for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children will increase the number of those served in West Virginia by about 10 percent, according to the state health officer.

    April 20, 2014

  • Absentee ballots moving online causes security concerns

    ANNAPOLIS — Voters may get to skip the lines at the polls this summer by receiving and marking their ballots online, but election officials must first decide if the convenience outweighs the security risks.

    April 20, 2014

  • Allegany County emergency medical services honorees and supporters Allegany, Garrett emergency responders honored

    MCHENRY — The 75 people from Allegany and Garrett counties who were involved with two exceptional emergency medical services calls in 2013 were presented with awards at the recent Night for Stars program held at the Wisp Resort.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • Lexis Trickett meets with Gov. Martin O’Malley Ninth-grader among 30 at inaugural event

    OAKLAND — Lexis Trickett, a ninth-grade student at Southern Garrett High School, was among 30 girls who attended Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Leadership Forum for Women and Girls recently in Annapolis in celebration of Women’s History Month.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • School immunization requirements change

    CUMBERLAND — Changes to school immunization requirements by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene affect students entering kindergarten and seventh grade for the next school year.

    April 20, 2014

  • Easter experience Easter experience

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Must Read
News related video
Raw: Crowds Rally at '420' Celebration in Denver Marathoners Celebrate Easter With Tradition Raw: Obamas Attend Easter Service Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor