Members of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Timberlands team based in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, coffee up and prep for a day of planting trees for Idabel neighbors affected by the November 2022 tornado.
On Nov. 4, 2022, the skies turned dark over southeastern Oklahoma. Timberlands team members AElena Collinson and Rebekah “Bekah” Allen were driving home after a work event in Texarkana, Arkansas, as the massive storm front approached.
“We had just crossed the Red River into Oklahoma, heading to my home in Idabel, where Bekah had left her truck,” says AElena, administrative coordinator. “There was a wall of black clouds over Idabel and lightning was flashing.”
The weather was so ominous AElena called a neighbor for a firsthand report. He advised her and Bekah to stay put.
“He had taken shelter in his safe room and said a tornado was coming through,” AElena says. “The next several minutes were agonizing as we searched for a safe place to wait out the storm.”
Kelly Kemp plants a bald cypress in an Idabel backyard. In addition to Kelly, the 16 planters were Bekah Allen, Ryan Craw, Bailey Elkins, Larry Fry, Ryan Giddens, Brandon Hall, Katie Hooker, Clay Mangum, Ned McCoy, Weston Murphy, Tristan Owen, Walt Smith, David Wall, Donald Watson and Steven Wagner.
LOOKING TO HELP
By the time AElena and Bekah got the all-clear to come into town, a massive F4 tornado had ripped through Idabel. While AElena’s home was spared, about 100 homes in nearby neighborhoods lay demolished, along with other buildings throughout the city.
“It was hard to take in all the devastation and heartbreak,” AElena says. “Even if buildings were spared, so many big trees in yards and parks had been snapped like twigs.”
Our Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund quickly provided a grant of $100,000 to help support displaced residents and clean-up efforts, and employees from our nearby Timberlands office in Broken Bow and our Idabel sawmill volunteered to support rescue and recovery operations.
Ryan Giddens plants a Shumard oak in an Idabel neighborhood in February. In the background, homes are still tarped and awaiting repair.
“Everyone was so appreciative of our support,” AElena says. “But after the holidays, there was still a lot of anguish — and frustrations were starting to mount as residents waited for insurance payouts to clear and building contractors to become available.”
So our Broken Bow team came up with a plan to provide a little extra support. They would expand the size of their annual Donation Days event in February, when they traditionally offer free seedlings to community members. And in addition to giving away seedlings, the team would step up to plant some for neighbors in especially hard-hit neighborhoods.
Ryan Craw, Weston Murphy and Steven Wagner plant loblolly pines. In the background are several trees with damaged limbs from the tornado.
NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR
Bekah, a planning and roads forester, rallied her coworkers from Broken Bow and nearby Timberlands offices for the event. She obtained 200 Shumard oaks and 100 bald cypresses from Oklahoma Forestry Services. Woolly Forestry, a small local timber company, donated 800 white oak, and our Southern Regeneration team provided 1,000 loblolly pines.
“We posted information on Facebook about how to sign up to have seedlings planted,” Bekah says. “We tagged a few people, and orders came in right away. From there, word started to spread.”
The morning of the planting was chilly and rainy, but that didn’t stop our 16 volunteers. They divided into four groups and went door to door, planting 2,100 one-foot seedlings as they went — a rate of about 40 seedlings per hour over the half day of work.
A neighbor’s dog sizes up a loblolly pine planted by Brandon Hall.
“They’ll grow a foot or more a year and will be taller than the average person in less than a decade,” Bekah says. “That means the impact on the community will be felt for decades to come as the saplings grow and reach maturity.”
In addition to the trees planted by the Broken Bow team, an additional 2,000 loblolly seedlings were donated to the Idabel Chamber of Commerce and another 2,000 went to the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce. All were picked up and planted by local residents. We also donated 2,000 loblolly seedlings to the local country club for their replanting efforts.
“Everyone was extremely grateful and appreciative,” Bekah says. “We spread a lot of hope with those trees.”