1999 OK tornado turns local man into life-long volunteer

5:44 PM, May 22, 2013   |    comments
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Doug Guikema volunteered after 1999 Moore, OK tornado.

BYRON CENTER, Mich. (WZZM) -- Monday brought destruction, devastation, and for Doug Guikema, flashbacks to Moore, Oklahoma, 1999.

"I still got choked up this morning, just watching it," he said. "You can't get that out of your system. "

Guikema was on the ground in Moore, volunteering with clean-up and recovering for weeks. That was his first experience at a major disaster scene.

"I remember a refrigerator, it was sucked out of a home, they found it three blocks away. And the magnets holding the kids' pictures were still on them," he said.

The image are still with him.

"It leaves something with you, to see what these people have gone through and to experience it first hand.

He flipped through a album with pictures from Moore in 1999.

"No trees, no houses, nothing," he said. "These are the safe houses they started to build after the tornado."

Pictures may paint a thousand words; these inspired Guikema to start a service mission that would take him thousands of miles across the country.

"I record every place I've been and I think I've been out 46 times," he said.

That includes the Galveston tornados, and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Sandy. Today, he's a regional manager with World Renew, a national disaster response service based in Byron Center. World Renew doesn't provide just immediate help; the trained workers go back to help communities re-build.

"That's going door-to-door, assessing where people are at, and listening to their stories," he said.

From there, they help cities prepare grants for federal aid. Some also go back to help with re-construction.

Guikema stepped away from Hurricane Irene duties on Tuesday to coordinate plans for his return to Oklahoma.

He says this trip will be emotional, but very different, thanks to technological improvements in email.

(In 1999), "All we could find were street numbers on the curb which they paint, because they paint their street numbers on the curb. And then we took the addresses down, and then had to go through books at the library. This is before the email systems. We sent letters to every house that had an address," he said.

After assessments, he returned for reconstruction. Now, he'll go back to the same destruction site that changed his life 14 years ago.

"One of our principals as Christians is to be as service and that's we're doing."

Guikema said the World Renew team that will go to Moore won't do a needs assessment until they have a long-term plan committee set up. He says they likely won't be asked to come for another six months, until they're needed.

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