Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Community leaders from the Atoka area dedicate one of the six storm shelters at the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Atoka.

Atoka community leaders install six new storm shelters

By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Though it has been nearly two years since an EF3 tornado marred the city of Tushka, work towards full recovery and heightened safety measures have not ceased in Atoka County. Community leaders gathered March 5 to dedicate six new storm shelters dispersed throughout the Tushka/Atoka area.

The shelters are large underground cellars designed to hold a considerable number of people in case of another tornado. They are located at:

• Pleasant View Freewill Baptist Church located at 503 Star Rd., Atoka

• New Zion Methodist Church located on Boggy Depot Rd. East, near Forrest Hill Rd.

• Posey Park located on the East side of Atoka on the corner of Kentucky and B St.

• The old Choctaw Community Center located at 1410 S. Gin Rd., Atoka

• Southside Baptist Church located at 1200 South McNally Dr., Atoka

• Hillcrest Baptist Church located at 335 E Highway 3, Atoka

Two of the shelters measure 6-by-6-by-16 ft., with the remaining four measuring 6-by-6-by-24 ft. All shelters are FEMA approved and are highly capable of protecting occupants from strong winds. The cellars are buried deep in the ground with concrete filling the bottom portion around the metal casing, anchoring it firmly in the earth.

According to Pastor Victor Cook, member of Atoka County Tornado Organization for Recovery (ACTOR), the shelters are designed to comfortably hold 12 people in the smaller cellars and 25 in the large ones. He went on to mention that even though these were the numbers assigned to the shelters, many more would be able to access safety during emergencies.

The shelters were purchased from Standard Machine in McAlester and installed by Keith Southerland, both of whom, according to Cook, worked favorable deals for the community. The purchasing and installation price summed up to $50,480, slightly more than the funds remaining from the Reba McIntire and Blake Shelton benefit concerts hosted at the Choctaw Event Center following the devastation of 2011.

Picking up the remainder of the bill was the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “We are so grateful for the Choctaw Nation, we couldn’t have done this without them,” said ACTOR member Dr. Steve Havener, as he addressed Choctaw Nation’s Atoka County Councilman Anthony Dillard during the dedication. “We do appreciate all the tribe has done,” echoed LaQuita Thornley.

“Everybody has really been excited to get the cellars,” stated Cook. It is going to benefit a lot of people, because many residents don’t have their own storm shelters, he continued as he discussed the community’s need for this improvement.

According to Cook, the locations were selected based on the disbursement throughout the community as well as the availability of entities to maintain and supervise them. He stated that the churches and the city have been cooperative in accepting responsibility for the shelters, both in the upkeep and manning them in cases of emergency.

The installment of the shelters came as the third project made possible by the benefit concerts, where over $500,000 was raised. The first two projects were to first get people back into their homes and second to clean up the immediate devastation.

These first two steps were extensive, requiring both a large amount of time and money. Through this work, the ACTOR was assembled. ACTOR has been behind much of the recovery and the planning for future readiness. ACTOR was formed by INCA Community Services, a national community action agency that took the reins once FEMA finished its immediate aid.

INCA has been the administration behind much of the relief efforts. It organized volunteer work, making sure everyone was working in the most effective way to rebuild, and handled the funds used to do such work. Six core personnel with 30 volunteers comprise the INCA efforts involved in rebuilding the Tushka area. INCA also assisted ACTOR by coordinating bids for the shelters and helping find the locations.

To find out more, visit INCA’s web page. and visit Standard Machine’s web page.