After the storm - rebuilding together

The Chickasaw Nation is pooling its many resources to aid the cities of Sulphur and Marietta, Oklahoma, in the aftermath of the fatal April 27 storm system that ravaged these communities. Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police, along with other first responders from the tribe, have been on-site assisting with search and rescue efforts, assessing damage and providing traffic control in unsafe areas.

“Our hearts go out to all the individuals and families affected by this tragic and destructive storm. We are actively collaborating with local authorities and emergency management agencies in relief efforts and will be there to assist our employees, neighbors and friends,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said.

“We are diligently evaluating the extent of the damage caused by the storm. Our emergency management team and Lighthorse Police Department worked through the night and are still onsite rendering support to all local teams and authorities as needed. There is a significant amount of damage, and assessment will be ongoing, but we will continue partnering and helping however we can,” he said.

The storm system caused four fatalities in Oklahoma, two within the Chickasaw Nation, and left hundreds injured throughout the state. Sulphur’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are devastated, with more than 100 homes destroyed and many more sustaining major damage, according to emergency management officials. Marietta ’s surrounding community, businesses and residents also received major damage.

The Chickasaw Nation Emergency Management and Disaster Relief team has made tribal resources available to affected city, county, state and national emergency management officials. Along with the tribe’s Emergency Management Mobile Command Center (emergency command center), a fully staffed and self-contained mobile medical unit has been deployed as well and is open to the public.

“We set up our (the Chickasaw Nation’s) emergency command center across from the Artesian Hotel in Sulphur,” Chickasaw Nation Emergency Management Executive Officer Steve Cash said. “We are coordinating with local emergency management teams by providing as much assistance as possible. We have damage in other communities as well, including Marietta. We are working with our partners in that area, too.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell surveyed the damage in both Marietta and Sulphur April 30.

“We’re really here to help me get an idea of what the overall impact to this community is,” Criswell said during the Sulphur visit. “I’ve seen the pictures on television, I’ve heard reports, but I want to be able to see with my own eyes and talk to the people that have been impacted, understand the scale, so we can make sure that we are bringing in the right federal resources to come in and support this community.”

Criswell met with Governor Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford during her visit to Sulphur.

Governor Anoatubby explained the historic ties to the area.

“We have a special relationship with the park (Chickasaw National Recreation Area) and to this area. The entire downtown is historic, and the Artesian is here. All of these things are integral to each other, that is how it was designed.”

Lankford explained the importance of tourism to the area and the potential of economic loss because of the storm.

Partnering to respond

The Chickasaw Nation has helped orchestrate donations of food, water and other supplies to be used by those directly impacted by the associated storms. These supplies have been provided to victims, first responders, volunteers and the many utility and cleanup crews that have flooded the area to restore vital services, including power, water and sanitation services. Chickasaw Nation employees volunteered in all aspects of relief efforts.

With more than 40,000 Oklahomans reporting power outages, the Chickasaw Nation is assisting with lodging for utility workers. People impacted by the storm can find emergency services provided by the tribe and other agencies at Crossway Church, Sulphur, which is serving as a Red Cross shelter. Along with the resources provided to the community at large, some resources are available exclusively for Chickasaw citizens. In addition to the mobile command center and Crossway Church, these can be found at all Chickasaw Nation area offices.

“The Chickasaw Nation provided cots for the emergency shelter location at Crossway Church,” Cash said. “We are collaborating with the Red Cross and other donors in the area.”

The Inchokma (feel well, be well) mobile medical unit was on-site several days to assist with non-emergency injuries,” he said.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that blew through Marietta has been rated an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, up from the initial classification of EF-3. EF-4 tornadoes have sustained wind gusts between 166 and 200 mph. The adjustment was made following the weather service’s survey crews reviewing onsite damage. The path of the tornado that damaged Marietta is estimated to have traveled 27 miles.

The tornado that hit Sulphur is rated as an EF-3, with sustained wind gusts between 136 to 165 mph. The heart of Sulphur’s historic downtown area and nearby neighborhoods was part of an estimated 17-block area devastated by the tornado. Across the street, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area sustained major tree damage and a foot bridge at Veteran’s Lake was swept away.

The Artesian Hotel, ARTesian Gallery and Studios and Chickasaw Visitor Center sustained some damage, as well as the Chickasaw Youth Club in Sulphur, and the downtown building housing the tribe’s re-entry program was destroyed. Several Chickasaw citizens’ homes were damaged or destroyed in Sulphur, according to Cash.

Chickasaw citizens impacted by natural disasters are encouraged to reach out to the Chickasaw Foundation. The foundation oversees the Chickasaw Nation Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. This fund contributes relief and recovery efforts associated with emergencies, natural disaster and crises, including tornadoes, fire and floods.

“The Chickasaw Nation Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund is available to Chickasaws. With five affected counties, we are encouraging people to reach out,” Cash said. “Both for those in need, and for those who would like to make donations. The Chickasaw Foundation can be reached at (855) 389-1740.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency for 16 counties within southern Oklahoma. These include Murray, Carter, Pontotoc and Love counties, each within Chickasaw Nation treaty territory.

Oklahomans with storm damage are encouraged to report it at Damage.OK.gov.

The powerful storm system produced flooding that continues to affect the communities of southern Oklahoma, as well as dozens of tornadoes across the U.S.

The storm system’s tornadoes have been reported in Texas, with the storm front producing tornadoes into Iowa and Nebraska.

In Sulphur, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department, city and county law enforcement agencies, and the National Park Service are asking people to refrain from visiting the disaster areas.

“In these long days and nights, it’s hard to keep spirits up,” Cash said. “But we will rebuild. We will remain strong. We will keep moving forward.”

The Chickasaw Nation’s efforts to mitigate property damage and loss of life began before the tornado-causing storms arrived. Serving local communities within the Chickasaw Nation, KCNP Chickasaw Community Radio Network provides up-to-the-minute hyperlocal weather updates received from the weather service. The tribe also provides storm shelters at no cost to citizens.

For more information about the Chickasaw Foundation, visit ChickasawFoundation.org.