Octavia Uribe stands inside her home, a newly added vinyl inscription over her shoulder: “Family, where life begins and love never ends.” The phrase, she says, has new meaning. All of her family survived last week's EF-3 tornado in Perryton. But others in the small town were not as fortunate. The storm killed three people, injured at least 75 more and destroyed as many as 200 houses like Uribe’s.
The home saved her life. After tornado sirens started, she, her daughter, son and grandson ran to her car to escape. She returned for her purse, and never made it out. The storm swept away the porch and carport. She crawled to a wall in the kitchen with her English bulldog.
A few days later, she stood by the wall for the last time. Structural engineers were expected to condemn and board up the stucco home that has stood in Perryton for more than 100 years.
“TBM helped us finish taking out everything we had, because we lost everything,” Olivia said.
“They came in yesterday and helped us with everything we could salvage. My house isn’t safe, the structure is bad, so it will be knocked down.
“They made me feel like I had someone to help me take out my things – my memories – and they made me feel like I had someone to count on.”
TBM volunteer Missy Mehringer, a member of First Baptist Church in Saginaw, was among volunteers who helped Uribe clear her home.
“It’s a daunting task, and you don’t know where to start. You’re in shock,” Mehringer recalled. “We helped her with the practical things. It was go-time. We had boxes, paper and tape. She made the hard decisions. We just helped her with the practical help of packing before the home was destroyed.”
“At a moment like this,” Uribe added, “You’re grateful for the help and grateful to be alive, and there are people who volunteer to help you for nothing. It makes you realize how to appreciate the small things in life. Today it’s you; tomorrow it may be you helping others.”
Mehring is one of many TBM volunteers scattered across Perryton, providing free boxes, helping homeowners sort through debris, running mobile shower and laundry units and removing ruined homes with heavy machinery.
Jim Lawton, a member of First Baptist Church of Waxahachie, is the white cap for the Perryton tornado recovery deployment. He said the tornado caused “complete damage.” In one part of town, the trailers and homes were just destroyed.
God brought the volunteers to Perryton who could best minister after the storm.
“We have 44 people on site,” Lawton said. “In the evening after supper, we have a debrief, and the debrief lets them talk about their experiences during the day. A lot of our volunteers are new and they’re not familiar with the devastation a tornado causes. So the debrief is a way for them to unwind and decompress.
“The stories last night were wonderful” about how God used the volunteers to help people, “and they talked about the children,” he pointed out. “Many people don’t realize children are devastated just like adults are. So we had some school teachers deployed, and I firmly believe God puts these teams together – the teams he wants on these deployments – and He put school teachers on this one to respond to the children.”
TBM teams deploy with a lot of equipment, but the heart of the ministry is delivering help, hope and healing to people in their most difficult days. These certainly qualify as that for Perryton residents.
Among those tools, he said, “are a trailer-load of moving boxes for personal possessions, a shower trailer for hot showers and a laundry that the public can bring their clothes, we wash them and fold them and give them back the next day. We have cleanout teams for debris removal, we have skid steers. But those are just tools to tell people about Jesus.”
Among the TBM volunteers responding to the Perryton disaster are college students brought together through Missouri Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. Two of the students said they had their perspectives changed by volunteering.
Brian Kinney, a student at the University of Missouri, said he came at the urging of his “college ministry pastor. He wanted me to sign up because he thought it would be a good fit for me to learn more about my faith and help me spread the Gospel, too. That’s why I’m here.”
Working in the mid-90-degree temperatures, Kinney admitted the team has encountered “a lot of labor, helping people pack, moving things, cleaning things up, and moving a lot of debris.”
But he’s also encountered “a lot of emotional strength” and a connection point from survivors. “From talking to them, I found strength in them. I know what it’s like to lose everything overnight. I was homeless at one time.”
One such person is Monica Ramirez. She was on the top floor of her small two-story home altering a wedding dress when the hail started. Setting down her work, she picked up her phone to record video.
Panning the view out of the window revealed a nightmare: A deadly tornado formed on her screen, and it was only a block from her home. The rest of the video revealed a moment of terror and destruction as the tornado shook the home. There was the sound “like an explosion” as windows shattered from the pressure. Then the video went black.
She survived the ordeal. The tornado swept away a greenhouse and her garage. It stripped siding from her home.
A few days later, a TBM crew helped her locate and retrieve her belongings. They did so with care and compassion. It’s an experience Ramirez will never forget.
“They are very, very, special,” Ramirez said of the TBM team. “I feel like I have another family.”