Residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are getting back on their feet following a devastating tornado on March 25. AFSCME members – many of them also from Tulsa – are helping them do that.
AFSCME Local 1180 members are on the front lines of the response. They are city workers who maintain streets and sewers, drive heavy equipment trucks and perform a myriad of other administrative and labor trade functions. Since the storm, many helped clean up debris and downed trees, and performed other critical tasks as part of their daily jobs.
Now they’re stepping up as members of AFSCME, to help their community recover. On Friday, April 3, Local 1180 volunteers will meet at their union hall and then head out to clean up debris that the city did not pick up. “We want to give back to our family, friends and community,” the union said on its Facebook page. They’re also setting up a fund for tornado victims.
Local 1180 Pres. Vincent McGee, who drives a heavy equipment vehicle for the city, said city workers were cleaning up streets and helping citizens who needed it within hours of the disaster. But many neighborhoods still require assistance, especially those with elderly residents who are unable to handle the cleanup of their own properties, or cannot afford to hire someone to do it for them. His local, along with other unions, will go out Friday to lend assistance.
“Our goal is to get in those areas and to talk to local businesses and see if they will help us out as far as getting dumpsters in the area,” he said. “This is a long-term goal. It’s not something we’ll do this Friday and not do again.”
McGee, who lives in nearby Okmulgee, did not personally experience the tornado, which registered EF-2 on the Fujita scale (top winds estimated at 135 mph), according to the National Weather Service in Tulsa. The Tulsa-area tornado killed one person, while other tornados and storms that same day left three others dead.
Destiny Huddleston, Local 1180’s chief steward, barely escaped the tornado that passed by her neighborhood. A treasury revenue processor in the city’s Finance Department, she was home in the west end of Tulsa when the storm hit.
She had just started to prepare dinner when a neighbor knocked on her door to make sure she heard the storm siren. “As any Oklahoman would do,” she said, “I went outside to watch. You don’t always go hide.” But she also prepared her hall linen closet, which would be her safe room, just in case.
“I walked back outside a few minutes later because the sirens had stopped a moment.” She recalled. “I could see clouds starting to funnel.”
That’s when a next-door neighbor stepped outside to get her husband into their storm cellar. Seeing Huddleston, she shouted at her to grab her 9-year-old son and her 4-year-old nephew and take refuge in their cellar, too. Luckily, she did. “I could hear loud winds,” she said. “Tree limbs hitting, the whistle of the wind. It was loud and it was fast and it was raining really hard.”
Without a radio, they all waited about two hours before venturing outside, where they found the neighborhood survived without significant damage. “Just some downed tree limbs,” she said – and a plastic child’s swimming pool lying in the middle of the street.
Huddleston later ventured out to help clean up the debris. She also made a donation through the local Red Cross. The union donated 15 cases of water to a church that housed victims. Huddleston and McGee will be out there again, with their fellow AFSCME members, picking up more debris.
“We will go out,” Huddleston said, “and make a big impact.”
If you wish to help, contact Local 1180 at 918-584-0334, or message them on Facebook.