LAWTON, Okla. – In the aftermath of a brutal ice storm Jan. 28, the Comanche Nation went into full emergency management system mode and opened a command center to field response operations, officials said.
The ice storm that crippled much of southwest Oklahoma, and left thousands without power and water, also prompted tribal officials to implement an emergency management system developed in preceding years.
In the early hours of the storm, tribal emergency response became a necessity. Tribal Administrator Willie Nelson, said the tribe’s emergency response was set in motion. By Saturday night, some 1,000 meals had been delivered and about 30 families had been extracted from homes.
“We began doing what we could,” Nelson said. “We concentrated on being a good neighbor and I think we did a good job. Our spirits were not dampened by the weather.”
A crane removed power lines and a tree from a home in downtown Apache, Okla. after the area was hit by a brutal ice storm Jan. 28.
On Feb. 1, employees from the 16,000-member tribe continued to deliver supplies, open shelters and partner with local municipalities to combat weather-related problems within the tribe’s eight-county jurisdiction, officials said.
The state of Oklahoma issued an emergency disaster declaration Jan. 31 and appealed for federal disaster aid to its 77 counties. State officials also contacted the tribe to request storage space in the Comanche Nation gymnasium for supplies like sleeping bags, food and cots.
Overall, the ice storm left some 200,000 without power in central and western Oklahoma; it downed power lines and closed schools and offices across the state. By Feb. 1, some 29,000 remained without power.
Within the Comanche Nation tribal jurisdiction, elders were isolated, day cares were closed and tribal offices were vacated. With many tribal members having diabetes, getting to them was a priority, officials said. Teams from the tribe’s Community Health Representatives program and volunteers visited elder homes to check on their welfare.
“But many of our elders did not want to leave their homes and we made sure they had water and other supplies,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the tribe opened shelters in Cache in the Cahoma Community Center and in the Comanche Nation College in Lawton. The shelters provided food, water and heat. Program directors became emergency response personnel, delivering water, checking on elders and transporting food and other supplies.
Around 20 maintenance crews were also dispatched to sites to begin clearing away brush from fallen trees limbs weighted down by inches of ice that was later compounded by snow. The tribe’s firefighting crews were also called to participate in emergency response efforts.
Additionally, the tribe opened its existing day care center in Lawton to those who needed to do laundry, while other tribal sites opened to offer showers to those who were without water. The tribe’s day care facilities were ordered closed during and after the storm, tribal officials said.
Locally, the Comanche Nation worked in conjunction with the American Red Cross Lawton Chapter to provide services. Katie Noffsker, Lawton chapter executive director, said the tribe contacted them months in advance to consult on emergency preparedness. Then the tribe became a partner agency in the Red Cross effort to provide emergency services, Red Cross officials said.
“It’s nice to know that the Comanche Nation has resources that we can rely on to serve the public in a time of need,” Noffsker said.
Power outages remained a pressing liability. Utility crews were called in from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to repair the downed lines. Energy officials said repairs could take up to a week. Ice damage left downed power lines and poles throughout Comanche County and neighboring Caddo County in southwest Oklahoma.
Basic goods and supplies remained in high demand throughout the Lawton area in the days after the ice storm. An estimated seven people lost their lives in Oklahoma during storm related incidents, state officials said.